FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – At just 18 years old, Diego Fagundez is poised to have a long and memorable career. But to this point – in his third professional season – Fagundez has likely never been better than he was in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls.
The dynamic attacker caused problems for New York’s backline all night, slipping into the open spaces in and around the penalty area while showing an innate ability to be in the right place at the right time. Fagundez registered a game-high six shots, scored his team-leading second goal of the season and almost provided a game winner on two separate occasions in the closing 10 minutes.
“The little man, Diego, had a heck of a night,” head coach Jay Heaps said succinctly. “He’s a good player.”
Despite his diminutive stature, Fagundez again used his guile to get on the end of a set piece, latching onto Chris Tierney’s corner kick and burying his own rebound after his initial effort was cleared off the line. Of Fagundez’s six career goals, it was his second from a set piece and his third scored in a crowded penalty area.
Tierney admits he wasn’t necessarily trying to pick out Fagundez in the box, but when whipping the ball into a dangerous area, he knows the 5-foot-8 winger will find a way to get involved.
“Diego’s surprisingly crafty in terms of finding the right spot,” said Tierney. “He’s obviously one of the smallest players on the field, but he’s got great instincts. He’s always on the move in the box … You see him getting in those little pockets he got in, between their back four and their midfield. When Diego is on, he’s tough to defend.”
Fagundez’s skill is unquestioned, but it’s his soccer sense which makes him so dangerous. During his postgame comments, Fagundez said he’d noticed a trend in the way New York was defending set pieces and consequently positioned himself in front of goalkeeper Luis Robles to disrupt his rhythm. The move paid off with a goal.
Fagundez has now started six of the Revolution’s last seven games after playing just 11 minutes in the first three matches, and his resurgence has coincided with a shift from playing as a second forward to an attacking winger. With more room to roam out wide, Fagundez is able to attack defenders one-on-one and it becomes easier to drift into the open spaces when the time is right.
But for Heaps, it’s not the attacking capabilities which have him excited about Fagundez. Those have always been there. Instead it’s his continued willingness to track back and defend, which is part of the responsibilities as Fagundez grows into that wide midfield role.
“I work a lot with Diego. He’s been in and out of our lineup and I’m pushing him for more and more. I think you’re seeing him become a more complete player, two-way,” said Heaps. “His awareness tactically; that’s natural. But it’s his two-way play that shows me he’s ready for the next level.”