Commentary

The Union get their man

Photo courtesy Bethlehem Steel FC

To a chorus of cheers and sighs of relief, the Union officially announced their new playmaking midfielder on Wednesday.

His name is Antonio Fontana and he is the academy jewel of Latislavian league-winners SL Delaware (Slower Lower). Though only appearing in a handful of matches in 2020, Fontana joins the Union in Florida this week coming off a season in which he scored nearly a goal per ninety minutes over 19 appearances. That kind of goals per minute rate is among the best in Europe, putting his name in the stratified air of players like Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Dortmund’s Erling Haaland.

Best of all, Fontana was out of contract with SL Delaware and thus the Union were able to put ink to paper without paying a transfer fee. He’s also agreed to a shockingly low salary for a player of his caliber, setting the Union back less than $100,000 this year. The financial aspect of this deal is paramount, not because of the losses from the ongoing pandemic, but also because the team have splashed cash before for undervalued European players like Andrew Wooten and gotten little from their investments.

On all fronts, it’s a big deal in Chester when the team can capture a player of Fontana’s quality at this stage in his career, especially for this price.

More specifically, goal-scoring numbers like those mentioned above should sit very well with Union fans, as Fontana is replacing a man who has become a Union legend: the recently transferred Brenden Aaronson. Aaronson, of course, is from New Jersey, grew up in the Union Academy, and beat out players like World Cup veteran Marco Fabian to earn his spot in the Union XI. Though he didn’t garner as much fanfare as a European signing like Fontana will, he wildly outperformed his value and the team were rewarded for it (both on the field and off of it).

How?

Though Aaronson was only a good player on a cup-winning team, perhaps the fifth or sixth name manager Jim Curtin wrote into the lineup every week, he became one who earned the club’s highest-ever transfer fee when he left for Red Bull Salzburg. He has quickly found a home in the Austrian side, scoring and assisting regularly on a team currently winning their league and certainly bound for European competition again. It’s clear the Union’s vision for academy development is coming to fruition, as there are a handful of new graduates joining the first team this year, keeping the assembly line moving.

Perhaps one of those players will replicate Aaronson’s success in 2021, but that spot on the field is now reserved for the up and coming Latislavian.

This should make the Union immediately better. For as much love as Aaronson was given during his brief time with the club, he wasn’t nearly as prolific as Fontana. The New Jersey native contributed 50% fewer goals last year than the Delawarean, while making 50% more appearances. This is clearly a like-for-like upgrade.

It’s no surprise Union fans are ecstatic to see Fontana on the field too. When the Union lost another homegrown player in Mark McKenzie, to Belgian side Genk, the team quickly found another young player with loads of upside to fill his spot, Scottish center back Stuart Findlay.

One out, one in.

There were worries Aaronson’s situation might be different, given the market demands for playmakers the world over. Those fears were unfounded thanks to Fontana.

Replacing a legend is hard, and doing so quickly, inexpensively, and with a player that is young, experienced, AND proven is all but impossible. But come April 7, the team’s new number ten will be wearing twenty-one.

The Union got their man.

Author’s note: This is a piece of satire. Latislavia is a fictional European country in Donald Duck, known for its national soccer team. 

16 Comments

  1. Chris makes a very fine point about valuing what you have, and it is well taken. Still, it would be comforting to have a few more bodies incoming, if only for the increased demands the players will face this year.

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      That’s an argument I can support 100%

    • I’ve been saying this for a while, but we need one additional reliable midfield body beyond Martinez, Monteiro, Bedoya, Fontana, Ilsinho and McGlynn. Unless one of the 16 year olds is ready for real minutes (and I have no reason to believe they are), the squad is thinner in mid than last year, and this year there’s the added CCL games.

      It doesn’t need to be a fancy European signing, but I think we really need a rotation calibre midfielder added.

      • Warren Creavalle was a capable sub in the midfield in primarily defensive situations.
        .
        Cole Turner has always been solid defensively. We saw so little of him last season that it is hard to guess whether the offensive dimensions of his game have improved.
        .
        When he did play for Union II to the limited degree that he did, he was either a defensive center mid or a shuttling center mid with a decidedly defensive slant.
        .
        Matt Real might be able to provide depth on the left side of the midfield. He had had some mop-up minutes there last season.
        .
        the third period of tomorrow’s live-streamed preseason event with Chicago may provide some evidence for this conversation, together with the last thirty of the ninety.

      • I thought Warren Creavalle was no longer with the team. That somewhat alleviates my concerns if he is.

      • Sorry to give a false impression. I was not overt enough in my language.
        .
        stories I have seen about Creavalle on the internet indicate that he is concentrating on his clothing design business and not playing soccer this season.
        .
        The link was on twitter and the story was in something called GQ, if my aging memory is not letting me down.
        .
        The point I intended to make was that Cole Turner may be more or less equivalent to CReavalle’s past role in what Turner brings to the team this season.
        .
        Again, apologies for any confusion I have created.

      • Chris Gibbons says:

        I thought Turner was fine in the match yesterday, a bit slow on the ball a few times and easing into the pace of the game, but like you said as a Creavalle equivalent.

      • What about Oravec? They signed him last year and many thought he would fill the spot that Brujo ended up seizing?

  2. Bravo – I think you win the Internet today.

  3. Per Jim Curtin, Fontana is going to be a ‘top of the 18’ #10, in comparison to where Aaronson operated – so we should expect a different look from the attack. Monteiro and Bedoya will be expected to do a little more of the shuttling work that BA helped out with.
    .
    The flip side is that we will probably get more quick pass interaction in the box, where we were taking more long range shots last year. This will help involve Kacper more (he was asked to a lot from wide areas).
    .
    That said, we still have ~$2.5mil towards a player that is burning a hole in our pocket.
    .
    I’m not saying it needs to be used on a #10, but Fontana is not going to be a Dockal type that feeds everyone around him. We are going to need our wingbacks and 8’s to do that. This isn’t a Medunjanin level problem though, and I think Jim can get the best out of Fontana. Looking forward to the ‘Electric Ant’ do his work out there!!!

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      Dockal is a great name to bring up, and weren’t they playing a 4-2-3-1 then? A lot of the creative work was his then, whereas in this system, it should be much more spread out (and feature Wagner and Mbaizo, for better or worse).

  4. Great writing, Chris! Thanks for making me smile today!

  5. It will work if he can cover enough ground defensively.
    .
    I know that he has been focused on being a professional ever since he was in the Academy, so I suspect he has taken his conditioning to a higher level.
    .

    • Vince Devine says:

      I think last year Jim stated that Fontana was always at the top of the player list in their fitness measurements, so no worries there.

    • The Peter Pandemic Principle says:

      a good player, but the feeling is he’s out of position at CAM-and when Monteiro played there I thought his game suffered as well.

      Tea leaves say if the 3rd time is the charm for the Czech they’re gonna need Ant to hold the fort until summer.

  6. Hahaha, thanks for this.

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