Anthony Fontana

The kids are finally all right for Union in season-opening win

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The kids are finally all right for Union in season-opening win

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — For years, the Union have yelled from the rooftops about their youth-first mentality and plan to win through player development.

On Saturday night, that plan finally came to fruition.

"It's a big step for us," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "The fact that some homegrowns weren't just on the field but left huge impacts on the game, it's special."

Anthony Fontana, 18, Auston Trusty, 19, and Derrick Jones, 21, all put their stamp on the Union's 2-0 season-opening win over the Revolution.

Fontana, hailing from Newark, Delaware, and who played 66 minutes at attacking midfield, opened up his MLS account in the 43rd minute when he gathered a tipped ball from C.J. Sapong and placed a confident shot past Matt Turner. 

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play here at this club,” Fontana said. “To be able to actually help the team today feels good.”

His teammates also couldn’t be happier. That includes Union and former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Alejandro Bedoya, who took Fontana under his wing throughout the preseason.

“I’m so happy for him,” Bedoya said. “He’s a good player so I hope he takes a good step this season. Not a bad way to start his debut, to score a goal. It’s just the beginning for him, he’s got a bright future.”

For Trusty, it was all about the clean sheet. Pairing with Jack Elliott on the left side of the Union defensive line, Trusty had the unenviable job of shutting down the Revs’ most potent option, Juan Agudelo. 

“It means a lot, but it’s also the challenge,” Trusty said. “The coach put me up to it and our organization put me up to it and they believe I can do it. I just set out to fulfill my role, do my task and keep the clean sheet and just play my role on the team.”

At one point in the first half, Agudelo beat Trusty and moved in on a breakaway, only for the rookie to catch up and steal the ball back.

“He made a couple key tackles in the box, won a lot of aerial duels in the box, did a lot of the things that don’t show up in the stat sheet for center backs,” Curtin said. “But the thing that makes me most proud is there was a zero at the end of the day. That’s what is most important. That means Auston did the job.” 

And while the win was a productive introduction for the Union’s crop of talented prospects, it was also an unforgettable experience for the local kids.

“It’s amazing,” Trusty said. “Imagine growing up in the Philadelphia area, being a little kid and coming to see these guys play, to be on the same field. I remember buying a ticket and coming to see these guys play and always dreamed of playing for the Union. For it to actually happen is amazing. It’s very humbling. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Union couldn't have asked for better season opener

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Union couldn't have asked for better season opener

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. — Delaware product Anthony Fontana opened his club’s 2018 account and C.J. Sapong piled on, as the Union rolled over the shorthanded New England Revolution, 2-0, on a frigid Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

The lopsided victory, in which the Union played up a man for much of the match, was just the club’s second opening-day win in nine tries. The Union beat the Houston Dynamo off a Danny Califf goal in 2011. They are now 2-4-3 all-time in openers.

The Union improve to 1-0-0, while the Revolution fall to 0-1-0.

• Fontana, a Union youth player-turn-pro, made his first-ever appearance with the Union Saturday. After earning the starting job during the preseason, the Newark, Delaware, native lined up at the No. 10 in place of newly signed designated player, Borek Dockal, who wasn’t quite ready to make the 18.

• Fontana, who is just 18, made the most of that opportunity in the 42nd minute when he placed home a ball from Sapong, who knocked down an Alejandro Bedoya cross. It was Fontana’s first MLS goal to put the Union up 1-0 at the half. The youngster, who showed a good feel for getting open, left the game in the 65th minute for Jay Simpson but left his stamp on the contest.

• The opening goal was set up by Sapong in more than one way. In the 24th minute, the forward launched ahead on a pseudo breakaway off a simple long ball. Just outside the box, outmatched Revs defender Antonio Mlinar Delamea flagrantly grabbed Sapong from behind to earn the easy red card ejection, putting the Union up a player.

• Looking for the elusive second goal, Union manager Jim Curtin went forward heavy. Very forward heavy. The manager pulled Fontana and Herbers out for forwards Simpson and Corey Burke in the 66th minute.

• Three minutes later, the aggressive move paid dividends. Burke beat his man on the right side of the box and slipped a light pass to Sapong for his first of the season and 2-0 Union lead.

• It was a red-card kind of night for the Revs, who suffered another one in the 86th minute. Claude Dielna simply couldn’t catch up to Corey Burke and hauled the Union forward down for his second yellow of the night. 

• It was a night of firsts for a handful of Union players. Along with Fontana, the match was first for Burke and Auston Trusty’s MLS debut.

• The Union outshot the Revs, 21-5, while Andre Blake earned the three-save shutout. It was the 18th of his career.

Union sign Homegrown midfielder Anthony Fontana

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Union sign Homegrown midfielder Anthony Fontana

The Union have signed Anthony Fontana as the club’s sixth Homegrown player.

“There’s not a better feeling than this,” Fontana said. “There’s been a lot of hard work to get this done and I couldn’t be happier right now.”

Currently with the Union's farm club, Bethlehem Steel, the promising 17-year-old box-to-box midfielder from Newark, Del., will officially join the senior team on Jan. 1, 2018, saving the club a roster spot for the duration of 2017.

Until then, Fontana has a plan.

“It’s just about going in everyday, improving and getting better at every little thing,” he said. “Keep improving the strong points in my game and improve every day, hopefully going into next year a way better player. We’ll go from there.”

So, why announce this now, in the middle of the Union's MLS season? Union sporting director Earnie Stewart didn’t want Fontana to slip away.

“When you have good players you have to lock them down,” he said. “We live in a country where academy players can leave for zero dollars to other clubs. For us, it’s important to lock down those players as soon possible.”

Union manager Jim Curtin, who has known of Fontana since the player was eight years old, has been impressed with his poise, which was put on display Saturday in a friendly against Swansea. The youngster was brought in for Derrick Jones with 15 minutes to play and he put on a show, flashing confidence on the ball.

“Fearlessness is the one thing that jumps out,” Curtin said. “Where Earnie and I get excited is when we see young players that aren’t scared to go into preseason games against top MLS players, to go into this past weekend against Premier League plays and not be nervous. He has talent. He’s a very good player with a bright future.”

The highlight of Fontana’s game started when he gained the right side of the box before pulling the ball from right-to-left, fooling the Premier League defender and rocketing off a left-footed shot that just missed frame.

“I’m a box-to-box midfielder that is comfortable in any situation, whether defending or attacking,” Fontana said. “I can score goals.”

Fontana will join Auston Trusty and Jones as a Homegrown Player on the Union roster. He opened eyes over the last two seasons with Steel, making 13 appearances, and his elevated play earned him an invitation to Union preseason camp in Florida, where he made two appearances in the 2017 Suncoast Invitational tournament.

It was there that Stewart saw an advanced aspect of Fontana's game.

“Decision making is a great part of his game and that is one of the thing you look for with academy players, how they encounter situations and what kind of solutions they find,” Stewart said. “He’s an exciting prospect and we are very pleased that we signed him.”