As Union midfielder Anthony Fontana walked onto the field before kickoff Wednesday night at Subaru Park, a video was playing on the big screen with highlights of recent Union-Revolution games. Fontana was featured prominently, having scored four goals against New England in six career matchups.
When Fontana got to the bench, he stopped for a moment, looked up at the screen, then said something to a teammate nearby.
Whatever those words were are already lost to history. But the truest sign of the moment’s significance was already clear. The soundtrack was TV clips of past glories, not the MLS anthem that plays when the starting lineups emerge from under the River End.
Five games into the regular season, Fontana has not held on to the title he was accorded in March when Jim Curtin appointed him the team’s starting playmaker. Though he started three of the Union’s four Concacaf Champions League games, he has started just two of five regular-season games to date, and the Union were shut out in both.
In the last two games, Curtin has chosen to start Jamiro Monteiro at the top of the midfield diamond and Jack McGlynn in Monteiro’s usual central spot. That’s another sign of something being up, especially since Monteiro is long since due for a day off.
“Anthony has worked hard for us this year. I think he’s had some good moments,” Curtin said when asked about Fontana’s standing after Wednesday’s 1-1 tie. “I think we all know his ability to get goals and score, usually off the bench. So again we’ve used him in that role through these games. You know, that’s kind of where we’re at with him.”
There’s more space to read between those lines than there was in New England’s defense.
“We wanted to get ‘Miro at the 10,” Curtin said, and those words sent another message. If Fontana was getting the job done, Monteiro would be able to play more at his better position in central midfield.
» READ MORE: Union to reopen Subaru Park to full capacity June 23
“We’re demanding a lot of the group in terms of, no matter how deep you are, we’re playing so many games now on such short rest, it becomes demanding for everybody,” Curtin said. “So again, when you’re called upon, we have to take advantage of those minutes.”
At that point, he could just about have sailed a tanker ship past the stadium with its horn blaring.
“In the games where we’ve started him, I think we haven’t gotten him on the ball enough,” Curtin said. “Part of that’s on the other players. Part of that’s on Anthony and his movement. But, you know, it’s kind of a balancing act. I’m sure he’s going to get [an] opportunity to start in the coming weeks, and I hope he takes advantage of that.”
Fontana played the last 32 minutes of Wednesday’s game, and he played pretty well: 23 touches, two shots, and 10-of-12 passing. He also got stuck in defensively to a degree that he doesn’t always (there’s another big hint), with seven duels won, two blocks, two recoveries, and one tackle.
Curtin knows his players are running on fumes, having played midweek games between weekend contests for three straight weeks. There’s another short turnaround on deck ahead of Saturday’s home game against the rival New York Red Bulls (7:30 p.m., PHL17). Then things will finally slow down, with two Sunday contests the only games left before MLS’s June break.
But for as badly as Monteiro needs a break, Fontana still has to earn starts. Curtin made the point amply clear on Wednesday. We’ll see Saturday whether he made an impact.
July game date changed
The Union’s visit to Nashville SC has moved from July 5 to July 3, with a kickoff time of just after 8 p.m. The game will still be televised on PHL17.