CHESTER, Pa. – This time of year, high school seniors are busy with any number of pursuits. Picking a college, looking forward to a prom and booking a house in Dewey Beach for Senior Week are just a few of the thoughts that fill the heads of many 17- and 18-year-olds.
That is not the case for Anthony Fontana. The Newark resident and graduate of Holy Angels School is laser-focused on March 3, which is opening night for the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer. Fontana, who turned 18 in October, will be in Chester, Pa., beginning his career as a professional soccer player.
It’s a goal Fontana has had as long as he can remember.
“Right around the time when I was 6 I knew I wanted to be a pro, so I just worked hard, and thank God it worked out,” Fontana said recently after a Union practice at their facility next to Talen Energy Stadium.
He began playing soccer, he says, at age 3 for Kirkwood Soccer Club and later for Penn Fusion and West Chester. As he neared the end of his time at Holy Angels, as his friends were picking the high school they would attend, Fontana’s preferred option was to skip traditional high school and attend a Union-affiliated academy. So for the past three years, he has been at the YSC Academy near King of Prussia.
“That’s pretty much what my mind was set for.,” he said. “At that academy, you train with all the guys, go to school, and you train in the afternoon. This is my life; this is what I want to do.”
While his friends are wrapping up their senior year, he has no regrets about going the nontraditional route. He is currently finishing up his academic work as well as preparing for the Union’s season.
“All my friends, they talk about a normal high school. Really, it doesn’t sound like that much fun. What I was doing was a lot better, and obviously, it worked out,” Fontana said.
He did speak approvingly of his time in grade school. “Holy Angels was fun. I had a lot of friends there. The whole community is a real positive one.”
The 5-8 midfielder officially signed with the Union last July, but the contract did not take effect until this past New Year’s Day. Fontana appeared for the Union First Team last July in a friendly against Swansea from the English Premier League, playing 14 minutes off the bench. He also appeared last year in 11 games for Union affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC, seven of those starts. In addition, he played in eight games for Bethlehem Steel FC in the team’s inaugural 2016 season.
He also has played for the U.S. Youth National Team at both the U-18 and U-20 level.
The Union began training camp for the upcoming season in January in Philadelphia and Chester before heading to Florida for the warmer climate. Fontana said he feels ready to compete at the highest level despite being the youngest player on the roster by a few months.
“I did a lot of work in the offseason to prepare myself for this, and now that it’s here, I feel sharp. I feel ready,” he said. “All the other guys, I can tell they’ve been working, too. All the hard work together, I hope it’s going to push for a good season.”
Close to home
Many professional athletes end up far from home, but Fontana considers himself fortunate to be able to drive home to Newark every day.
“It’s nice because if I have a good day or a bad day, I know I can go home and talk to my parents and just kind of ease my mind and relax. I can still go and hang out with my friends. It’s not like I’m in another country where I would kind of have to be alone and have to deal with everything by myself,” he said.
He is one of several “hometown players” on the roster. Two others, like him, are 18: Mark McKenzie and Matt Real. McKenzie, who lives in Bear, and Real, from Drexel Hill, Pa., have been friends for years and attended the Union academy with Fontana. Both also played for Bethlehem Steel FC.
“There’s nothing better than playing with your friends for your whole life. It’s awesome,” he said.
The roster also includes players from all over the United States, and it has a definite international flavor, with Ghana, Cameroon, Jamaica, Brazil, England, Germany, and Bosnia and Herzegovina contributing talent to the team.
“They bring a lot of different cultures,” Fontana said. “It’s cool to see how different things are in different parts of the world. I try to pick up a little Spanish every here and there.”
The Fontana family had Union season tickets beginning in the first season, 2010, but as his schedule became too hectic, they decided to give them up. Fontana said it will be a lot different being in the stadium in front of the fans, including the rabid Sons of Ben, instead of among them.
“I have a lot of experience as a fan. I know how the Philly fans are. They want someone who works hard. Every day I’m just going to keep fighting and perform as well as I can on the field,” he said.
As the season nears – the preseason was scheduled to begin Feb. 17 against D.C. United in St. Petersburg, Fla., the regular season on March 3 at home against the New England Revolution – Fontana is getting excited. He wants to work as hard as possible and be on the game-day roster as often as he can.
“Now that it’s here, there’s nothing better. I’m enjoying it so much. Every little part of it, from being in the locker room to meetings with the team. Eating lunch. Just being in this professional environment, there’s nothing better.”