Analysis / For Pete's Sake

With the Union’s strikers sidelined, can Anthony Fontana provide the goals?

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

At his Tuesday press conference, Philadelphia Union manager Jim Curtin ran down the list of his injured strikers with the bemused expression of a man who couldn’t quite believe his own bad luck.

Kacper Przybylko, dealing with a balky back, just had an injection. Cory Burke is yet to practice this year. Sergio Santos, not training with a toe injury, is out but targeting the second leg against Deportivo Saprissa for a return. And Jack de Vries has just entered the concussion protocol.

To put it simply: it’s not what you want heading into your first-ever Concacaf Champions League match.

If the Union want to move on in the competition, they’ll have to find a goal from someone.

That someone might just be Homegrown midfielder Anthony Fontana, who scored a pair of goals in the club’s last preseason match of 2021, a rainswept 2-0 victory over D.C. United on Wednesday afternoon at Subaru Park.

On an afternoon where Curtin had to start two rookie midfielders out of position at striker in Paxten Aaronson and Quinn Sullivan, Fontana took care of business. He opened the scoring in the third minute, controlling a loose ball near the penalty spot and firing low and hard past old friend Chris Seitz. He finished the scoring too, smashing a ball from Jack McGlynn on the volley into the upper corner of the net from ten yards out.

Both goals showcased the scorer’s instincts and powerful shot that the Delaware native flashed in last season, when he racked up six goals in just 510 minutes of game action.

Fontana, who will get first crack at the No. 10 position this season, doesn’t bring the same skillset to that spot as his predecessor, Brenden Aaronson. He does not have the speed that would allow him to pressurize the opposition, and he has not shown the passing range that could regularly unlock stout MLS defenses.

But his nose for goal cannot be denied, and in a team without a star striker, Fontana’s presence in and around the penalty box will be key for the Union.

Especially with the veteran striker corps on the shelf.

Notes and observations

Aside from Fontana, here’s what stood out to me in the Union’s final tune-up before Saprissa.

  • The Union lined up in their usual 4-4-2: Andre Blake; Kai Wagner, Jack Elliott (Stuart Findlay 76’), Jakob Glesnes (Aurelin Collin 76’), Nathan Harriel (Matt Real 61’); Jose Martinez (Cole Turner 45’), Jack McGlynn (Leon Flach 76’), Alejandro Bedoya (Matej Oravec 76’), Anthony Fontana; Paxten Aaronson (Shaynder Boregelin [Union II] 61’), Quinn Sullivan (Brandan Craig 76’). Alongside the aforementioned injured players, Jamiro Monteiro and Olivier Mbaizo are on international duty.
  • It was a good sign to see Jose Martinez return to action after an ugly injury earlier in preseason. He played the first half before making way for Cole Turner.
  • Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes, who did not often play alongside each other last season, looked strong. Curtin has singled out Glesnes in particular as a veteran who has impressed so far in preseason.
  • Fighting to send one of those two to the bench will be offseason signing Stuart Findlay, who made his first appearance in the 75th minute. Findlay only just made it over to the United States due to COVID-related travel issues, and Curtin suggested at his Tuesday press conference that it could take a bit of time before Findlay gets up to speed.
  • Another debutant, coming on for the final 15 minutes in central midfield, was Leon Flach, who just that morning had been announced as the Union’s newest signing. Flach, 20, is a U.S. youth international signed for about $300k from St. Pauli in Germany. I really like the move for the Union. Flach is a young, versatile player with upside — and he fills a position of need for the Union, midfield depth. In a perfect world, he grows into Alejandro Bedoya’s starting role and earns a big transfer fee in two or three years. In a normal world, he still gives the Union depth at a key spot for the next few years at a reasonable cost. And, if Flach flames out, it’s at small cost to Philadelphia — his contract is a two-year deal with club options after that. It will be fascinating to see which of the Union’s youngsters stake a claim to midfield playing time early in this season.
  • Speaking of young lottery tickets, Flach entered the action alongside Matej Oravec — a player with a very similar profile. Oravec joined the Union for a smallish transfer fee last offseason at age 20, with youth national team experience and the ability to fill several different roles. Of course, Oravec’s first season was a disappointment (zero appearances) and he doesn’t look anywhere near cracking Curtin’s starting group right now. That’s the thing about young players — they don’t all pan out. But taking a bunch of swings, like Ernst Tanner has done, gives you more chances to make solid contact.

4 Comments

  1. Getting excited for the season! Great write-up. Thanks, Peter!!!

  2. US U-23 could have used Fontana in Olympic Qualifying.

  3. I think I spent way too much time yelling at the strikers to “Shoot the ball!”… with Fontana I agree, not as a complete skill set, but he is the perfect, “get the ball on his foot anywhere in the box” and something can happen… but that means he needs strong support in getting him the ball… and we’ll see about that.

  4. T.Coolguy says:

    Related tp your comments about Flach and Oravec, when you have players like Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie it’s easy to forget that many 21-22 year old players with potential won’t come close to fulfilling it at that age.

    Youth signings don’t always have to be home run $10m transfers to Europe players, and many of the players that don’t have rockets strapped to their back at 21. I don’t know what the future holds for either Flach or Oravec (though Oravec looks increasingly unlikely to justify an international slot), but if either one is getting minutes when the real games come that speaks well to their future as a pro.

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