Growing Up Diego

The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the August 4 game against Sporting Kansas City

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Diego Fagundez has a unique pregame routine.

Before each match the New England Revolution’s wunderkind sits down at his computer, pulls up Youtube and searches his own name. He scrolls through the results in search of one particular highlight; a brief clip which captures a moment in time that – without being overly dramatic – completely changed his life.

Fagundez watches his first professional goal, scored in his MLS debut against Chivas USA on Aug. 6, 2011. Just 16 years old at the time, Fagundez became the youngest player in Revolution history when he entered the game in the 66th minute and became the second-youngest player in MLS history to score a goal when he beat 2012 MLS All-Star goalkeeper Dan Kennedy 20 minutes later.

Watching the goal before each game serves as a reminder to Fagundez: This is what you can do. Go out and do it. But that night was about so much more than just a goal. It was the night Fagundez began a meteoric rise from high school freshman to teenage sensation.

It’s been a full year since Fagundez burst onto the scene on that memorable August evening and life’s a little different for the now-17-year-old. He trains with the Revolution full time, traveling on most of the club’s road trips. He earns a paycheck which would make many adults envious, let alone teenagers. And perhaps most noticeably, he has a horde of diehard fans – rabid, shrieking fans.

Fagundez has cherished every minute of the past year, but there’s no question he’s been asked to grow up a bit faster than most kids his age. At 17, Fagundez is by far the youngest player on the Revolution’s roster and the teenager occupies space in a locker room alongside teammates ranging in age from their early-20s to mid-30s. Many have children of their own.

In the locker room, Fagundez is just one of the guys. That’s why it’s been important for the youngster to remain a kid outside his life as a professional athlete, spending time with his friends and continuing his high school studies to maintain some semblance of a normal teenage life.

“I hang out every day with my friends,” said Fagundez, who admits his buddies tease him relentlessly about his teen heartthrob status. “There’s not one day when I’m not with my friends … Sometimes we go watch movies, but most of the time we’re probably just fishing. We all love fishing. We’ll play some video games, just fool around and relax.

“I feel like when I come to the locker room, I’m more like a man, not a kid anymore,” he added. “You have to grow up once you’re in the locker room. But once I’m out, I act like a kid sometimes.”

Although time commitments with the Revolution prevent Fagundez from joining his classmates in high school, he’s continuing toward his diploma with tutoring sessions twice a week. Like the rest of his friends Fagundez is currently enjoying his summer break, but he’s expected to begin his junior year in the coming weeks.

It’s a constant balancing act for the Leominster, Mass., product, who takes high school classes and goofs off with his teenage friends in the afternoons but understands the importance of professionalism when he’s on the training ground. Head coach Jay Heaps watched Fagundez’s debut from the broadcast booth last season and has seen firsthand the maturation process throughout his first year as a pro.

“He took off last year and this was his first full preseason, his first full season under the style that we’re going to play and I think he’s adapting,” said Heaps. “But at the same time, everything we’ve asked of him, he’s done. That, to me, shows that he’s turning into a man, which is what you need when you play games out here.”

“He’s definitely grown into a man,” agreed former Revs captain Shalrie Joseph, who roomed with Fagundez on road trips before he was recently traded. “I think every day’s a special day to watch him play and watch him practice. He comes in early and works hard. He goes into the gym now; last year he wasn’t doing that. He’s trying to get stronger and better and every day he pushes himself to be one of the better players on the practice field.”

Last year, Fagundez felt like somewhat of a novelty. Did you hear about the kid who plays for the Revolution? He’s only 16 years old! And he scored a goal! While that attitude still persists somewhat outside the organization – after all, he’s still only 17 – this year Fagundez has earned the right to be considered just one of the guys.

“I feel like no one even thinks I’m the kid anymore on the team,” said Fagundez. “I feel like everyone takes me like I’m part of the team and not the kid who was here last year trying to prove that he can play.”

Fagundez has certainly proven that he can play. He scored one of the Revolution’s most dramatic goals of the 2012 season on June 30, notching a 94th-minute equalizer against Seattle Sounders FC. But when it comes to Fagundez and memorable goals, it all comes back to Aug. 6, 2011.

That’s when Diego Fagundez’s life changed. That’s when his fantasy became reality.

“Dream come true,” Fagundez said when asked to characterize the past year. “That’s the only way I can describe it.”