The glimpses of Anthony Fontana that Union fans saw this year left many of them wanting more, and for good reason.
Here was an American teenager with some real skill as an attacking playmaker — and just 18 years old when he was thrust into the opening-day starting lineup because Borek Dockal wasn’t ready yet. In 65 minutes on the field, Fontana created two chances, completed 23 of his 31 pass attempts, took three shots, and scored the winning goal. He even chipped in some defense with three interceptions.
But in the next three months, Fontana played in just three games for the Union, and all were cameos. His only start after that was an early-round U.S. Open Cup blowout of lower-league Richmond, and his only appearance at all after that game was as a late-game substitute at LAFC. He spent much of the rest of the year in Bethlehem, playing 16 games for Steel and delivering one goal and one assist. There were also a few minor injuries along the way, the kind just bad enough to sideline him when the Union could have used an offensive spark.
Add all that up and you get a sense that the Newark, Del., native’s rookie campaign was a bit underwhelming. Would it have felt that way if Fontana’s debut didn’t come with the hype of him being one of the Union academy’s top prospects? Maybe not, but the hype was well-earned.
More importantly, Fontana knows how much work he still has to do.
“I learned a lot about myself as a player, as a person, on and off the field” this year, he said recently. “I know I have a lot to prove, and I really am planning and hoping I get a lot more opportunities so I can show everyone what I have. Because I feel like I still have yet to really do that."
Fontana was just as reflective about the big opportunity he did get back in March.
“The opportunity came the first game of the season, a little bit earlier than I expected, and a lot of people in Philly know how that went,” he said. “Luckily, I was at the right place at the right time, and I thought I showed myself really well. And then, in the game that we’re in, you can have a good performance but next week you might not be starting, and that’s just how it is. I feel like in that sense, I’m pretty professional. I understand the game.”
Toward the end of the year, there were a few rewards. Fontana helped Bethlehem earn its first USL playoff win, then joined the U.S. under-20 national team for Concacaf’s World Cup qualifying tournament. He played two games, recording four goals and an assist, including a hat trick against St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Fontana wasn’t one of the American team’s stars of the tournament. In fact, he was released midway through when the U.S. was able to bring in a few top prospects from Europe. But the appearances were his first for his country in real competition, which meant a lot to him.
“Before, I was just in camps [for] all friendlies. Although that’s very important, finally playing in a game that mattered, that’s special," he said. “That was an awesome, unbelievable experience. Now there’s a lot of hard work that I have to put in myself to really prove why I should be one of the guys that they bring to Poland [for the World Cup] next year.”
It will surely help if Fontana is able to stay healthy. It’s definitely on his to-do list.