Anthony Fontana, the former EDP player who was one of four representing the Philadelphia Union in the 2018 MLS Homegrown Game, has a history of good first impressions.
The first time Union sporting director Earnie Stewart watched the former Penn Fusion Soccer Academy midfielder play, he knew the Union had their hands on a future first-team player.
"There are certain things when I look at [Union] Academy games, you're always looking for those players who kind of manage the situation that they're in and Anthony showed from the first game that he sees everything," he said.
"He has his head up at all times. That excited me from the first moment that I saw him." Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart explains.
"So when he receives the ball his first touch is really good. When he doesn't have the ball, he's always gauging and looking around and trying to scope where everybody is."
His second big impression came when Fontana made his pro debut with Bethlehem Steel in the United Soccer League at FC Cincinnati. He showed his poise under pressure while playing in front of 17,000 enthusiastic USL supporters.
"He was very calm about that," Stewart said. "That is something that he has within him. Every time he progresses to another [level] in his young career you see he starts to master it. Making your debut, I'm not going to say that's easy, but staying there is always the difficult part. But you're seeing Anthony is getting better in training every single day."
Good enough to make his debut for the Union in its 2018 Major League Soccer season opener against the New England Revolution on March 3. Not only did the Delaware native acquit himself to the professional game quickly, Fontana also scored his first professional goal (see below) in the 43rd minute to secure the win in the Union's 2-0 home victory at Talen Energy Stadium.
"Once the ball was right there, I just had my body take over, the muscle memory..." he said.
Then he saw the ball hit the net.
"I freaked out," he said. "I probably did like 10 different celebrations. I didn't even think. As I remember, I kind of blacked out. It was just surreal." Fontana explains.
Stewart adds: "That's fantastic for a young player in his debut, scoring a goal. Having our Homegrown Player score a winning goal in a game, what else do you want? He symbolizes what we're trying to do."
The 5-11 midfield maestro understood what helped produce the goal.
"A lot of years led up to that just because there was so much work," he said. “There was so much work put in in the offseason.
"It was just a normal game day. I prepared my body well and then walking out on the field, seeing all the fans there, there was no better feeling. I had feeling I was going to have a good day."
That goal only whet Fontana’s appetite to accomplish more.
"It was just a start," he said. "I want that every week, every day if I can have it. It comes down to a lot of hard work on the training field, hard work outside the training, keeping my body healthy, doing the best I can to put myself in the best position. Once I am called upon, I can have moments like that."
Videos courtesy of Philadelphia Union & Major League Soccer.
At the age of nine he joined West Chester United Soccer Club (PA), which helps feed the Fusion Academy teams.
Fontana said his time with the Fusion helped him develop into a better player because of the increased competition in the EDP leagues at the lower ages.
"When I went to Penn Fusion, in Delaware there weren't as many as good players in our area, so I had to adjust to that," he said, adding that the competition "was definitely better and it helped me grow as a player faster."
His most memorable moments with the Fusion?
"Just winning a lot of the little tournaments," he said of EDP's weekend tournaments. "That was always fun. Since I joined the Union Academy, we haven't won many tournaments, so I do miss those two-day tournaments. That was always fun."
Fontana, who is of Italian descent, remembered when he wanted to become a professional soccer player – as a six-year-old when Italy won the 2006 World Cup on July 9 of that year.
"I always loved the game when I was younger," he remarks.
"Noticing how much joy (soccer) brought my family and me, I was like, 'Wow, if I could do that one day..."
—"that's something that I always wanted to do. I still dream of doing that." Fontana goes on to explain.
Like many young players, his goals include playing in Europe.
"My dream is to play for the biggest clubs in the world," he said. "First things first, there is a lot of business for me to handle in Philly. Hopefully, I just want to win as many trophies here as possible. If I ever get called to play for bigger teams, I'm open to that. If I stay here for the rest of my career, I'd be fine with that. I love Philly."
Fontana's next piece of business at the time—represent the Union in the Homegrown All-Star Game against the Tigres UNAL’s Under-20 team from Mexico.
"Any time you get to represent the club (at these) levels, whether it be the national team or something like this, the Homegrown Game, it's always special," he said. "I was really excited and showing what Philly has to offer us. That's the main goal. Hopefully, when I go out I will have a good performance and show off more of this club."
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