The first thing many may notice about Sporting Kansas City center back Andreu Fontas is that he oozes confidence and calm. It may be his dark good looks or his deep, assured way of speaking. Or it may be that he is an FC Barcelona-bred Spaniard. Or it just may be all of that.
When Technical Director and Manager Peter Vermes and the Kansas City brain trust made the decision to sign Fontas – and pay him just under a million a season – they knew they were getting a seasoned and well-pedigreed professional. Indeed. Laced throughout Vermes’ recent words on the 29-year-old are the modifier really and the laurels great and fantastic.
After joining Barca’s La Masia Academy as a 17-year-old in 2007, Fontas debuted for Barcelona B a year later. Under the tutelage of Luis Enrique, the current gaffer for the Spanish National Team, the 6’1”, 190lbs Fontas moved from holding midfielder to center back.
However, Fontas did not earn a permanent spot with the powerhouse, Lionel Messi-driven club. A loan to first-division club Mallorca for the 2012-13 season followed before he signed with La Liga club Celta Vigo in June 2013. Fontas appeared 121 times for the Celticos through 2018 as they earned two top-half of the table finishes and reached the semifinals of the UEFA Europa League.
Sporting Kansas City signed Fontas on a free transfer from Celta Vigo in August of 2018 for center back coverage and an eye to the future after letting go Argentine Emiliano Amor. The fact that Fontas had forged an extensive playing relationship with holding midfielder lynchpin Ilie Sanchez – a likely influence on pulling the trigger on the deal – didn’t hurt.
Fontas and Ilie forged a successful partnership at Barca B from 2009-11, forming the spine of a Barcelona B side that first gained promotion to the Spanish second division and then leading them to a strong third-place finish the next season.
“I know him perfectly; he knows me the same way,” said Ilie of the relationship.
Meshing with Sporting’s most important piece of their playing puzzle … check.
And now, Fontas is primed for a starring role with Kansas City after the trade of Ike Opara to Minnesota United FC. Along with his pedigree, his half-season experience (two appearances, one start) with Sporting last year gave him the inside trek on newly-acquired Hungarian Botond Barath and Rwandan Abdul Rwatubyaye and college product 23-year-old, second-year center back Graham Smith in becoming the new partner for Team captain Matt Besler in the center of KC’s four-man backline.
And that leads to a bit of an oddity… both the left-channel Besler and the right-channel Fontas are left-footed.
“They are both lefties, which is not the norm, but Andreu has adapted really well. He’s played there before on the right side,” stated Vermes on Monday night at the Sporting KC kit reveal event. “He is really confident. He is really good on the ball. He reads the game really well. The two of them are a good tandem.”
It is not too far of a leap to say that Fontas’ abilities will change the way Sporting Kansas City plays out of the back. It is a fact that Opara’s foot and passing skills were not on par with Sporting’s evolution over the past few seasons to a more ball-controlling, possession-based mode of play.
“[The tandem of Fontas and Besler] really help[s] us because what it will be really hard for teams to do is focus [defensive pressure] on one guy because they both can play so well,” Vermes claimed.
With the distributing acumen of Belser, Ilie, Roger Espinoza, and Felipe Gutierrez in the back and midfield, Fontas’ addition literally means Sporting’s attacking possibilities are limited only by their middle engine’s in-game decision-making and vision.
“He’s great in the buildup. He’s fantastic. Those are his strong points for sure,” said Vermes of Fontas’ distribution, including both long and short balls. “Everything.”
Pressed for more detail, Vermes added:
“[Fontas] doesn’t always take the conservative approach. He’ll go in the attack in a more advanced position, as opposed to going backwards… It will cause problems for teams.”
Although scoring goals has not been a noticeable trait throughout his career, Fontas loves getting involved. “I like to play offensive football, have the ball and enjoy football,” he said. “And it’s the way Sporting KC has been playing, and it’s the best way to get results and fight for titles.”
Yet, every claim has its counterargument. The immense athletic abilities that Opara displayed were valuable, perhaps especially valuable for Sporting. When wide backs get so far forward in the attack to offer options in possession and be on the end of that distribution to change the point of the attack, athletic center backs and midfielders are helpful in defensive recovery.
Fontas has the requisite street smarts – The Blue Testament scribe Chad Smith, reporting on Sporting KC’s scrimmage with top USL side Phoenix Rising last night said that Fontas handled former MLS forwards Adam Jahn and Lamar Neagle well, “using his body to shield away attackers and cut off their runs.” – the bigger question, perhaps, is whether or not Ilie, Fontas and Besler, and wide backs Graham Zusi and Rodney Wallace (or Seth Sinovic) can work together like a fine-tuned auto.
“[Things are going] very good [with Matt]. He helps a lot. He has a lot of experience,” Fontas stated. “He knows how Peter and Kerry want us to work. He’s speaking a lot with me. He’s a great player… We will be a good defense.”
As far as the bigger defensive picture, Fontas assured. “We are working a lot in training, working to know each other. We have some new players, and we have to work a lot to get this line coordinated. And we are on the way.”
La Liga and the Spanish second-division are different than MLS. Last year’s experiences with Sporting were critical for Fontas. He acclimated and decided he could be happy in Kansas City. And he witnessed first-hand the heartbreak of coming within one win of reaching MLS Cup.
“We were so close,” Fontas said. “Everybody has it in their mind that this year wants to be the same and try to get better.”
Many challenges lie ahead as Fontas hits the season as a likely starter in a critical position. CONCACAF Champions League play arrives first on February 21st at home. Then the away leg at Mexican club Toluca follows a week later. All before the long and winding road of the MLS season that begins March 3, interspersed with US Open Cup play. Toluca and MLS teams will go right at Sporting KC’s new center back.
“We have a lot of important games in a short period of time. But we are ready. We are prepared for what coach needs of us,” Fontas expressed. “Even though the games are very big, we are ready to go for it.”
Although there is little proof of Fontas’ quality in MLS, he passes the eye, background, and testimonial tests with flying colors. It should not be long before he passes the critical game (and fan) test as well.