CHESTER, Pa. — A recent conversation between Philadelphia Union sporting director Ernst Tanner and midfielder Anthony Fontana helped light a fire under the Homegrown player to take his game to the next level.
“Now he’s raised his level,” Union coach Jim Curtin said.
Fontana’s second strike of the year, the first came in the U.S. Open Cup, was a continuation of the form he has displayed since stepping on the field late in extra time in the fourth round of the USOC against D.C. United.
“Anytime you get advice from the (sporting director), you have to take it to heart and really work on the things that he said I should work on and I’ve been doing that,” Fontana said.
“Yesterday we sat down and just watched some video,” Fontana said. “Obviously I’m just looking to improve. Everything he is saying, I’m working on and I was just happy I was able to get a goal tonight. It makes that conversation 10 times better.”
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Since his Open Cup appearance June 12, Fontana has seen his minutes as a substitute increase in league play.
It started with an eight-minute stint July 3 against Orlando City SC, then he received 12 minutes three days later and helped set up a late equalizer from Kacper Przybylko against the Lions.
After playing 25 minutes last week against Real Salt Lake, Fontana played his longest shift of the year by scoring a goal during his 29-minute appearance Saturday.
“He’s earned it,” Curtin said. “That’s the easiest way I can put it. He’s earned it with better performances from the (USL Championship affiliate Bethlehem) Steel.”
“Every chance that he gets for minutes with the first team, he’s pushing,” Curtin said. “We’re going to put the best players on the field and Anthony’s been one of our best players in training now every day. He stepped up in a big spot and scored a big goal for us.”
The uptick in form has to do with the motivation gained from conversations with Curtin and Tanner, as well as a smarter approach off the field, which has led to him being healthier in his second professional campaign.
“I feel like some of (the injuries last year) might just have been due to over training,” Fontana said. “I would do a lot of stuff individually and the trainers would tell me to ease off. This year, I’ve been doing the extra work, but I’ve been a lot smarter with it and also it might have been with me growing into my body.”
“I do feel like it’s behind me and I’m doing everything off the field to keep myself as healthy as possible,” Fontana said.
The better preparation tactics have led to Fontana grabbing hold of his opportunity while Jamiro Monteiro and Warren Creavalle are out injured.
“I work very hard and I do put in the extra work,” Fontana said. “I’m here after training, sometimes it’s work that people don’t really see. I felt like all I really needed was that opportunity and recently I’ve been getting it and I feel like I’ve been grabbing it with both hands. I’m so happy for that.”
But the player and his coaches know this is just the next step in Fontana’s evolution, and the ceiling is only higher for the 19-year-old to make a further impact with the Union in the hunt for a home playoff game and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“Happy for Anthony,” Curtin said. “We don’t want to get too high though because there’s a lot of work to do and he can improve. He’s given us a boost in a couple of games. The Orlando game, the limited minutes that he got, he made the most of. And now for him to get a big goal to close out the game was special.”
“For Anthony to know take it up a level is a credit to him as an individual player,” Curtin said.