MLS Preview Spotlight: Fontana ready to build on breakout 2020 with Union

MLS Preview Spotlight: Fontana ready to build on breakout 2020 with Union

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MLS Preview Spotlight: Fontana ready to build on breakout 2020 with Union

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The Philadelphia Union saw two Homegrown talents make the move to Europe this winter and will now look to another young playmaker to fill the gap left in the club’s midfield this season.

Anthony Fontana waited for his time to shine for the Union and delivered his best season yet in 2020 for the eventual Supporters’ Shield winners. A Delaware native, Fontana registered six goals in 18 league appearances last season, tripling his goalscoring production in a single season.

With Brenden Aaronson now excelling in Austria, Fontana is being looked to as a natural replacement. That’s a lofty responsibility given Aaronson’s status as a Best XI midfielder in 2020, but Fontana is ready for the challenge.

“I don’t feel the pressure if I’m being honest,” Fontana told SBI. “I love the pressure. I believe in the next man up mentality and that is what we have here this season. Whether I’m starting a game or coming off the bench, I am always ready and I think that is why last season was a successful one for me. Brenden and Mark are good players and they will be missed, but for myself and for the team, we just have to move on and focus on this season.”

Fontana was mainly a bench option for Jim Curtin’s squad over his first two MLS seasons, totaling 217 minutes in league play between the 2018-19 seasons. The 21-year-old didn’t pout though, as he delivered several top performances off the bench in 2020, scoring his six goals in 523 minutes of play, an eye-raising stat.

After a disappointing 2-0 first round playoff loss to the New England Revolution, Fontana got busy in the offseason to prepare for this season. He knew Aaronson would be moving in January, leaving a starting spot in Curtin’s squad open for this season. With one strong season under his belt now, Fontana aims to follow that up with a second.

“It was an annoying loss, but I just put my head down this offseason and got better,” Fontana said. “I wanted to get better at the strong points of my game, and prepare myself for the opportunity of seeing time at the No. 10 position. I even feel I improved in the weaker areas of my game, just to be fully prepared once preseason came around. I feel like I’ve really improved so I’m just excited to really show everyone that.”

“I am really pleased with Anthony and the work he’s put in this offseason,” Curtin told SBI. “He came into camp fit and ready to work and he will have a shot at the No. 10 this season along with [midfield teammate] Jamiro [Monteiro]. Anthony still has some things to work on like his passing in the final third and his runs, but overall he’s done a nice job and it’s good to see from a young player.”

Fontana will be fighting alongside Monteiro to start at the top of the midfield diamond in the Curtin’s 4-4-2 formation. Alejandro Bedoya and Jose Martinez will likely round out the midfield starters for the Union heading into the season, but offseason arrival Leon Flach and youngster Paxten Aaronson will also aim to crack the starting lineup.

Fontana boosted his stock with a brace in a 2-0 friendly win over D.C. United last week as the Union closed out their preseason schedule at Subaru Park. Now the club looks ahead to their debut in the Concacaf Champions League on the road at Deportivo Saprissa, a team well into its domestic schedule in Costa Rica.

It will be a new challenge for Fontana, but the midfielder is ready to kick off this season with a strong start in CCL.

“It was a good performance to finish out our preseason,” Fontana said. “It’s always a good way to end it by scoring two goals yourself and also contributing to a clean sheet win. Now it’s all eyes on Saprissa like it pretty much has been since day one of preseason. It’s always been in the back of our minds, now it’s in the front of our minds and we are very excited for the opportunity.”

Fontana was able to watch as two of his teammates earned moves abroad with their stellar play over the past few MLS campaigns. Both Aaronson and McKenzie have gelled nicely into the plans at Red Bull Salzburg and Genk respectively, helping grow the Union’s name as a franchise.

The former U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team player isn’t shy about his own aspirations of moving to Europe someday. Italian Serie A side Spezia has reportedly been monitoring the midfielder and could be in the mix for him at the end of the European season.

While Europe remains a main goal of his down the road, Fontana is focusing on taking another major step forward with the Union in 2021.

“It’s definitely been a goal of mine from the very start, but ultimately it’s all eyes and all focus on what’s right in front of me right now and that’s helping this team to win as many trophies as we can this year,” Fontana said when asked about Europe. “We have a good group here and I think we should be contending for every trophy we take part in.”

“Moving abroad is a dream of mine, but right now it’s about taking steps forward and hopefully to new heights with the Union this season.”

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