Union midfielder Anthony Fontana has been waiting patiently for a while to get his shot.
This year, it looks as if Fontana is finally going to get more playing time. On a conference call with reporters Thursday from preseason training camp in Clearwater, Fla., Union manager Jim Curtin seemed to peg the 20-year-old as Alejandro Bedoya’s backup in central midfield.
Since Bedoya likely won’t play every minute of the season again this year — which is a good thing, rest assured — Fontana is likely to be a regular in the bench rotation.
“He’s still young, and he’s going to have some highs and lows, [but] I think this is an important year for him," Curtin said. "If I’m developing Anthony the right way, I say he skews more towards Alejandro Bedoya’s type of game, where he can add the offensive pieces, but because of his work rate and ability to run, he’s really a two-way player ... a box-to-box type of midfielder that can get you goals.”
Curtin said he has been impressed by Fontana’s work in preseason so far.
“He’s a guy who’s pushing to be in our starting lineup,” Curtin said. “I say that not to put pressure on him. I say that because I believe in him, and that’s what is the next step for Anthony — in terms of grabbing a hold of minutes, putting together performances that make the coaching staff not be able to take him off the field."
There were some points early last year when it seemed that Fontana was going to be stuck. He and the Union’s coaching staff noticed, and in late June, had a conversation with sporting director Ernst Tanner that seemed to flip a switch. He went on to play in five straight games in July, and came off the bench a few more times late in the season.
“He really came on at the end of last year," Curtin said. “I don’t want to say [he] stopped thinking, but he just kind of went out and played every day in training, and played without fear, and was just aggressive and free in his game.”
In the past, Union fans have seen Fontana play at the No. 10, the attacking playmaker position at the top of midfield. He can certainly do that, aided by a pretty good scoring touch. But his best position is a bit deeper, the No. 8 spot in central midfield from where Bedoya captains the squad.
“Anthony is a guy that I think we’re going to lean on more for minutes, whether it’s at the No. 8 or 10,” Curtin said. “He’s at a stage in his development now where he’s not a rookie anymore. Yes, he’s still extremely young, [but] he’s shown that he can cover ground, he can do the work defensively — and goal-scoring midfielders are really, really hard to find, and they’re really valuable in MLS in particular.”
Along the way in his remarks, Curtin was asked if he think Fontana is up to the task. He didn’t hesitate to answer.