Union academy-bred midfielder Anthony Fontana’s move to Italian second-division team Ascoli finally crossed the line on Friday, starting a new career chapter for the 22-year-old from Newark, Del.
Fontana left the Union at the end of the 2021 season to seek his fortune elsewhere, after growing up in his hometown club’s academy and playing four seasons in MLS. He debuted in 2018 as a big-time playmaker prospect, the first marquee Union academy product at soccer’s most glamorous position. And it was never a secret that he dreamed of playing in Italy, as a longtime fan of Italian superpower Juventus and holder of an Italian passport.
The hype justifiably grew when Fontana started and scored in his first MLS game, on the opening day of the 2018 season. But on the whole, Fontana never quite fulfilled his potential.
There were a few of his own shortcomings, but just as importantly due to competition within the team. There were always big names taking big minutes, from Bořek Dočkal to Marco Fabián to Jamiro Monteiro to Dániel Gazdag. And there were other big-time academy products too, Brenden Aaronson from 2019-20 and Paxten Aaronson last year.
It also didn’t help that Fontana missed nearly two months last summer because of a concussion.
In the end, Fontana played 51 games for the Union’s first team, recording 12 goals and 1 assist. The Union twice offered him a new contract last year, but he declined. He went to Italy last month, got a tryout with Ascoli, and after weeks of reports that the team would sign him, it finally happened.
A source with knowledge of the situation said that the Union will get some money from Ascoli even though Fontana was technically out of contract. Because the Union made those offers last year, the team is eligible to be paid under FIFA’s training compensation system for teams that develop future pros.
The source said the Union could receive up to 120,000 Euros — around $136,000 — in performance incentives, such as games played by Fontana and if the club gets promoted to Serie A. (The odds of that happening this season aren’t great.)
There’s also a deal for a sell-on fee that ranges from 15-25%, if Ascoli ever deals him elsewhere. And if Fontana moves to a team in another country, the Union would be eligible for further compensation through FIFA’s solidarity payment system.
When a player age 23 or older is sold between clubs in different countries, FIFA mandates that 5% of the transfer fee is divided proportionally among all the clubs where the player played from ages 12 through 22.
If a player changes clubs before that age, the solidarity percentage is reduced on a sliding scale according to a system that FIFA has formalized.
This is a big deal for the Union, because it means that they will get a piece of any future moves between countries that players like Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie make.
But it’s important to again note the use of between countries. If Aaronson’s next move is to an English club — such as Leeds United, which bid $27 million for him this winter — the Union would be eligible to get a solidarity payment out of that. (They’d also get the sell-on fee they agreed with Salzburg of up to 20% of the transfer cost.)
Now say some time after that Leeds sells Aaronson to another club. If that next club is in another country, the Union would be eligible for a solidarity payment. But he moves from one English club to another, the Union would not be eligible.
FIFA lays all of this out in a legal document on its website called “Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players.” Naturally, that document is 87 pages and full of jargon, but you can read it if you’d like to.
The Union will also benefit from future eligible moves made by Auston Trusty, the Media native who grew up in the Union’s academy and joined England’s Arsenal this winter from the Colorado Rapids. And as more academy products move abroad, more solidarity payments can come the Union’s way.