Matt Fondy Makes Impressive First-Team Debut for San Jose Earthquakes
His breakthrough chance for the San Jose Earthquakes had arrived in a fit of finger-snapping immediacy on Thursday night, for a reason no player would ever want.
Sercan Guvenisik, a half-time substitute for forward Steven Lenhart, lasted just 19 minutes in San Jose's friendly with Mexican Premier League (Liga MX) side San Luis FC before hobbling off the field with what would later be diagnosed as a hamstring problem.
Earthquakes manager Frank Yallop beckoned to Fondy, who as recently as May had been plying his trade for the Los Angeles Blues in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) before being brought in as a guest player for a recent string of games.
It's the sort of audition that can spark a career, should the managerial staff come away impressed with the string of performances. But that couldn't have been farther from his mind when the call came to spell Guvenisik.
Maybe that was best. It's hard to get nerves when you don't have time to fall prey to worry.
The 23-year-old furiously shed his warmups and filtered out onto the field, where he paired with All-Star forward Chris Wondolowski at the top of San Jose's 4-4-2 formation. It was a fun change from 19 months ago, when Fondy—then a talented senior at UC Santa Cruz—had replaced Wondolowski during an exhibition with the University of California.
The inclusion wasn't lost on the 1906 Ultras, who despite their diminished presence on the night still hailed the Bay Area native's entrance into the game.
"It felt awesome," Fondy said in the post-game locker room, thinking back upon his entry into the game. "I might have blacked out for a second out there, you can tell me what happened."
Sporting the number 36 on his back, on a jersey that had yet to feature his name (so it goes for guest invitees), Fondy waited only five minutes for his first chance on goal, superbly chesting a crossfield ball from Ramiro Corrales and firing a volley over the crossbar.
Though he's always been known as a goalscorer, it was Fondy's link-up play against San Luis that most impressed. His flicked header, which bounded into the path of Wondolowski, was impressive, as was his hold-up play in the 85th minute, where from the right wing he picked out midfielder Rafael Baca in the penalty area with a clever pass that nearly led to a goal.
"I like to think that I’m an all-around player; that I can do everything pretty well," Fondy said. "I just like to fine-tune everything to take it to the next level."
He'd already impressed for San Jose in a Tuesday reserves match victory (2-0) against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Then it had been Fondy's fearsome drive that had opened the scoring for San Jose, his effort rocketing off the crossbar and into the path of Mehdi Ballouchy, who headed home with ease. Fondy had also come close to getting his name on the score sheet with a close-range sliding effort that was well saved.
Wondolowski, who scored the 92nd-minute winner against San Luis and never one to mince words both on the field and off it, said in the post-game locker room that he came away particularly impressed by Fondy's Thursday-night performance.
The impression was shared by Yallop. "He’s done well," the coach said in his interview. "We had Matt in a couple of years ago (2011); he went to Pittsburgh and played in the USL, and I've spoken to him via text over the last little bit. Any time he’s here, we'll talk.
"He’s not had a chance to come in too frequently, but we invited him for the reserve game (against the Galaxy), and he did well in that and I thought he’s played well enough in that game to get a chance to show his stuff tonight. He did well; I thought it was good."
Tired legs notwithstanding (two games in three days' time wears on any player, regardless of age), Fondy was a picture of exuberance in the locker room.
"It was awesome," he said, trying to affix words to what he'd just experienced. "I’ve been trying to get on the Earthquakes for a year or two now, and it’s a dream come true."
Since his Santa Cruz career came to a close, Fondy has featured for USL sides Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, and kept on scoring.
While with LA this past spring, he scored against the youth teams of Chivas USA and LA Galaxy, but through it all, he has maintained making it in MLS as his foremost goal.
"When I'm in the (Bay Area), I'll let (Yallop) know I'm around, and if he needs me for a reserve game or practice," Fondy said. If that proves the case, Fondy continued, then he's there.
"I tried out for them a few years ago, and I was on the cusp, and I played a few USL seasons. When I got back after this previous (LA) Blues season, I texted Yallop I was around, and I got into that reserve game against the Galaxy."
Fondy's chance with the Quakes will likely come after the current season, in which San Jose is embroiled in a race for the Supporters Shield and a likely title challenge. That means that Fondy will presumably earn an invitation to January camp, where he'll be raring to crack the Quakes roster.
Few will have finer pedigrees than he.
At Santa Cruz, Fondy led the team in scoring in his sophomore (seven), junior (eight) and senior (14) seasons. That final campaign (he also chipped in 12 assists for the 11-4-3 Banana Slugs) coincided with Fondy being named the Division III Independents Player of the Year as well as earning First-Team honors. (He was named third-team All-America his junior season at UCSC.)
It was the latest in a long line of accomplishments for Fondy, who in 2006 was named the Central Coast Section (CCS) Player of the Year after scoring 15 goals and adding 11 assists for Burlingame High School.
That Fondy had enjoyed such a superlative end to his high school career was made all the more impressive considering that he'd suffered a torn right quadriceps during his junior year that had forced him into six months of convalescence.
Fondy had used that time to work painstakingly upon improving his left foot, an effort that helped create the complete player seen today. He's never forgotten the injury, though, and the level of appreciation for health that it fostered in him.
It's an awareness he continues to exude, even as his appearance (he's shed his shaggy hair for a closer crop) has changed. Asked about his plans for the immediate future following Thursday's game, Fondy was succinct.
"I’m trying to stay around here as long as I can," he said. "The longer (San Jose) let me stay, that’s the best thing that can happen."
All quotes were obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted.
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