FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Late last week New England Revolution sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena asked Diego Fagundez if he’d be interested in occupying a deeper-lying central midfield role when the Revs visited FC Cincinnati on Sunday night.
“Yeah, I’ll give it a try,” Fagundez responded.
Fagundez didn’t just try, he succeeded, turning heads during a standout 79-minute performance in which he helped control the tempo of the game in possession, clogged passing lanes, and consistently tracked back defensively in the Revolution’s 2-0 win over FC Cincy.
The most eye-popping statistic was Fagundez’s passing accuracy, going a perfect 31-for-31 in the first half and clocking in at over 90 percent (39-of-43) for the match.
“He really grinded; he really worked hard tonight,” goalkeeper Matt Turner said of Fagundez’s performance. “I don’t think it was very comfortable for him at first, but he really grew into the game, and he was finding key passes that were breaking lines.”
“It was something new for me,” said Fagundez. “I got a little tired at the end, but when I got the ball, I know how to play around it. The thing that I needed to get better was defensively, and I think I did well today. It’s not an easy role to just step into a game like this and give it everything you have.”
Fagundez looked comfortable defensively, and his biggest contribution came early in the first half when he tracked back to support Brandon Bye and cut out a dangerous counterattack. As Bye forced FC Cincinnati winger Kekutah Manneh central from the left wing, Fagundez stepped in to nick the ball away at a crucial moment and kill the attack.
Moments later, Carles Gil scored at the other end to give the Revolution a vital early lead and send them on their way to fifth victory in the last seven matches.
“I just have one very specific memory of him tracking Kekutah Manneh all the way back on a pretty dangerous counterattack and making a really long sprint and putting him off,” Turner recalled. “That was huge for us. That’s the work he’s been putting in, and he will continue to put in.”
“Matt Turner was the first one who said, ‘That was all you.’” Fagundez said of the sequence. “It’s not something I do every day, but at the end of the day, we all need to put our shift in and put the defensive work in, so I was trying to do my best to make sure that we kept a zero in the back.”
Fagundez did help the Revs keep a zero – their second straight clean sheet – and after following up his one-goal, one-assist substitute performance against Vancouver with Sunday night’s showing in central midfield, the 24-year-old earned praise from Arena, and perhaps more minutes moving forward.
The only question is what position he’ll play when those minutes do come.
“He didn’t play that much the past few games, but today he really stepped in and he (had) a great effort for us,” center back Antonio Delamea said of Fagundez, praising his adjustment to a new role. “We just got a new guy in a new position who can play really good. This is only good for the team.”