FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – One year ago, Diego Fagundez was the 15-year-old phenom who’d just signed a professional contract with the New England Revolution to become the club’s first-ever Home Grown Player. He was in the midst of his freshman year at Leominster High School.
Fast forward 12 months and Fagundez is now the 16-year-old sensation who’s a household name amongst Revolution fans.
“It was all quick,” Fagundez said of his rapid progression from Academy standout to first-team contributor. “I couldn’t really breathe in the moment. They offered [the contract], I had to keep training with the Academy team, and then after that I had to step in with the first team and of course work hard. It all happened so quick that you can’t even think about it.”
When Fagundez was added to the Revolution’s roster last November – making him the second-youngest player in Major League Soccer history – the club’s technical staff consistently emphasized its plan for a slow, methodical progression. Fagundez would continue to train and play with the youth teams on a regular basis, while he’d join the first team for training sessions and reserve games when the situation made sense to aid his development.
But something happened along the way which altered the plan: Fagundez proved he belonged.
“He’s one of those players who you can put into challenging situations and he’ll figure out a way to adapt to those situations,” said Director of Youth Development Bryan Scales. “He has the ability to figure things out because he’s had to. He has a good soccer brain and he’s not the biggest kid, but he has to be able to find a way to survive. He’s done that and then some.”
His skill was evident in training sessions and a pair of U.S. Open Cup appearances, but Fagundez truly began to turn heads with a three-assist performance in a 3-2 win over Toronto FC in a reserve match on June 21. Shortly thereafter, Fagundez made the bench for a regular-season game against D.C. United on July 20, and just a few weeks later he made his MLS debut against Chivas USA on Aug. 6.
“The realist in me says, ‘You know what, let’s see how this thing goes,’” said Scales when asked if Fagundez’s swift ascent took him by surprise. “There weren’t a ton of expectations on him, but having seen him for the last two years in training, in games, how he competes and how he goes about his business on the field, I don’t think it was a big surprise for anybody who’s been around him day-to-day to see him take it step-by-step and not have any real setbacks yet. He’ll have some setbacks in his career, but this past year he kept climbing and climbing and climbing.”
“I never thought it was going to be that quick,” admitted Fagundez. “They told me it was going to take at least two years (to reach the first team), so I was not expecting it to be in a year. But of course, if you work hard in training and [play well], they’re going to put you in.”
Play well is exactly what Fagundez did, drawing a penalty kick and scoring a goal in his first league appearance against Chivas USA. He went on to score once more against Seattle Sounders FC and recorded an assist against the Chicago Fire, finishing the season with two goals and one assist in six appearances (three starts).
With a whirlwind year winding to a close and his first professional experience under his belt, Fagundez is once again looking toward the future. New head coach Jay Heaps has made it a point to emphasize his admiration for Fagundez, who hopes to be a key component of the Revolution’s attack in 2012.
“I’m going to be really excited because I’m actually going to play a whole season,” said Fagundez. “It’s not just going to be coming in for half the season after not training (with the team). So I think I’m going to be really excited and hopefully I play.”