The journey begins for Fagundez
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Diego Fagundez couldn’t sleep the night he found out the New England Revolution was offering him a contract to play professional soccer.
With his phone ringing off the hook in the following days as friends and teammates called to congratulate him on the groundbreaking news, he likely hasn’t slept much since.
“As soon as I saw it in the newspaper, I got 10 phone calls in [the first] minute,” Fagundez said with a laugh. “I was really excited.”
The 15-year-old’s excitement level was still evident on Thursday evening – three days after the Revolution’s official announcement – as Fagundez spoke to the media for the first time prior to training with the Revolution’s Under-16 team at the Dana-Farber Field House.
With his family standing nearby, the Leominster High School freshman stood in front of multiple cameras and recorders and explained the process in which his signing with the Revolution unfolded.
“[The Revolution] called me saying that they wanted to meet my parents,” Fagundez said. “When I sat down, the first thing they said was [they’d] like to sign [me] if I was interested. I thought about it a little bit because of the high school season, and then after I just decided to do it.”
A simple explanation for what was in reality an extensive process which included a series of measured decisions.
By signing a professional contract, Fagundez forfeited his eligibility to play both high school and college soccer. While Fagundez will remain in school and continue toward his high school diploma, he’ll be unable to represent his school’s soccer team, a concession he was willing to make for the opportunity to sign with the Revs.
There was also the tricky matter of Fagundez’s citizenship, which was cause for a few minor wrinkles in the paperwork process. Originally from Uruguay, Fagundez does not currently hold American citizenship. As a result, the Revolution’s newest signing spent a week in Ottawa with Vice President of Player Personnel Michael Burns in order to acquire a P1 work visa.
“There was a lot of time, a lot of work and a lot of effort that went into this to get it done,” said Burns. “We’re very excited for the program and for Diego.”
As extensive as the process was simply to get Fagundez under contract with the Revolution, the 15-year-old’s journey is just beginning.
Unlike the cautionary tale of Freddy Adu – who was 14 when he was drafted by D.C. United in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, making him the only player younger than Fagundez to sign with an MLS team – the Revs plan to bring Fagundez along slowly and at an appropriate pace.
While Adu was thrust directly into United’s first team – most would say far too soon for a player of his age and size – Revolution fans are unlikely to see Fagundez in their team’s 18-man game day roster in the near future.
“This is the start of a process for him, this isn’t the destination,” said Director of Youth Development Bryan Scales, who coached Fagundez on the Revolution’s Under-16 team last season. “He still has some challenges and some bumps in the road ahead as he embarks on his career, but he’s mature, level-headed and excited about it, so we’re thrilled for him.”
While Fagundez certainly has exceptional skills for a player his age – “He’s got great feet, good vision; he’s got some special qualities,” Scales said of the attacking midfielder – the coaching staff has preached patience as he continues his development.
“He’s still 15,” Scales said of Fagundez, who at 5-foot-8 and 125 pounds is one of the smaller players on the U16 team. “You’ve got to cook this thing, you can’t microwave it.”
The Revolution’s signing of Fagundez comes at perhaps the perfect time, as MLS recently announced it will reinstate the Reserve Division for the 2011 season, providing Academy players the occasional chance to play alongside first-team players in less pressurized game situations.
Fagundez will also likely spend some time in 2011 training with the Revolution’s first team, albeit on a limited basis and only when the situation is appropriate.
“He’s enjoying playing with his teammates here (on the U16 team),” said Scales. “We expect to move him up with the [U18 team] and get him more games this year than last year with the older age group.
“With the reinstatement of the reserve league, I think that will provide a great opportunity for him to get in with some seasoned professionals, see how he does and kind of learn as he goes along,” Scales continued. “It’s a development process and he’s got the maturity and the right head on his shoulders to understand that’s it going to take a little time.”
While it would be easy for a 15-year-old to get carried away with the situation – especially upon becoming the second-youngest player to ever sign an MLS contract – Fagundez is well aware that there’s a long road ahead.
“I haven’t thought about it yet,” Fagundez said when asked about possibly playing alongside established veterans in the Reserve Division. “Right now I’m just thinking about the Academy.”
With plenty of time to develop into the player he hopes to ultimately become, the Academy is exactly where Fagundez’s focus should be right now, especially since the U16s and U18s both open their seasons with a pair of road games this weekend.
When he takes the field on Saturday afternoon, Fagundez will have the chance to pull on the Revolution jersey for the first time since becoming an official member of the first team.
“Putting on the jersey feels amazing now,” he said with a grin.