FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Diego Fagundez waited patiently for his chance to take center stage, sitting on the bench as an unused substitute in all three games of the New England Revolution’s recent road trip against D.C. United, the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City.
Fagundez’s wait eventually paid off in a major way, as the moment the 16-year-old had been eagerly anticipating finally arrived on Saturday night against Chivas USA in front of the home fans – not to mention friends and family – at Gillette Stadium. With the Revs trailing by a pair of goals and heavily on the front foot as they searched for a way back, head coach Steve Nicol saw a prime opportunity to introduce the Revolution’s first-ever Home Grown Player in the 66th minute.
“It’s all timing,” Nicol said of the decision to insert Fagundez. “Things had settled for him tonight. We were obviously getting everything forward early so it was a good time to come on. Starting the game might be a little bit not there yet, but as you can see, he wants to play. He’s done everything to get a game and it’s been a great night for him.”
Even Fagundez couldn’t have imagined exactly how great his night would turn out. Perhaps in his wildest dreams he’d envisioned a similar scenario, but not in reality.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this’,” Fagundez said of his reaction to being told by Nicol he was going into the game. “(I was) really excited when he told me that. The first thing I thought was, ‘I’m going to have to try and help the team score a goal’.”
That’s precisely what Fagundez did. Just two minutes after taking the field in an MLS match for the first time, the Leominster, Mass., resident drew a penalty kick when he was chopped down by Chivas USA defender Heath Pearce following a mazy run into the left side of the box. Shalrie Joseph converted the resulting spot kick and at the time cut the visitors’ lead to 2-1 in the 69th minute.
After Alejandro Moreno scored his second goal of the game to restore Chivas USA’s two-goal lead in the 80th minute, Fagundez did himself one better by putting his own name on the score sheet in the 86th minute. The diminutive attacker fought off the challenge of Chivas USA defender Zarek Valentin and latched onto Kevin Alston’s long pass before finishing past goalkeeper Dan Kennedy.
“Kevin Alston played it over the top,” Fagundez recalled. “Shalrie was about to head it and I just said, ‘Leave it,’ and the ball bounced and I put my body around a player. Right when the ‘keeper came out I shot lefty and the ball went in.
“When I saw the ball go into the net, I was like, ‘Oh my God’,” Fagundez said. “The first thing I did was a heart (with my hands) to my family who were standing in the club seats.”
Fagundez’s scintillating debut performance impressed both his teammates and his head coach.
“We had thoughts about playing him at some stage tonight anyway because he’s been doing great in training,” said Nicol. “He just likes to play, you can see his enthusiasm. It looks like he’s got a footballer’s brain. So it was a no-brainer to get him on. He did a fantastic job. He gets the penalty, he gets the goal; what more can you ask for?”
Ironically, Fagundez stole the headlines on a night when the early storyline was the debut of Argentine forward Milton Caraglio, who started the match as the Revolution’s first-ever Designated Player. Caraglio played 62 minutes before being replaced by Kenny Mansally.
Of course, Fagundez’s promising showing was dampened by the result, a 3-2 loss which snapped the Revolution’s modest three-game unbeaten run.
“The three goals (we conceded) were atrocious,” said Nicol. “I’ll always defend the players, but occasionally when your defense gives up goals like that, there’s no hiding place. The goals were atrocious. Really, defensively, we let down the rest of the team tonight. We made some great chances – fantastic chances when you think about how many we should’ve scored – and we’ve lost again.”