Diego Fagundez lifts Revolution to victory over Fire

Revolution 1
Fire 0

FOXBOROUGH — On a night that put an end to a disappointing nine-month season for the Revolution at Gillette Stadium, 17-year-old Diego Fagundez provided a special moment for a team that really needed one.

Making just his sixth start in the Revolution’s 33d game, and final at home, Fagundez had the often-dry New England offense looking like a shaken bottle of soda for most of Saturday night’s game against the second-place Chicago Fire.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Fagundez slotted a shot far post from about 25 yards out early in the first half as he and the Revolution knocked down the Fire, 1-0, in front 25,534 on fan appreciation night. It was the club’s fourth-largest crowd for a stand-alone game at Gillette.

“For us to win tonight, we had to play almost a perfect game,” said coach Jay Heaps. “And then you need a special moment, and Diego took it tonight. He really did.”

With the Revolution already eliminated from playoff contention, Heaps had a newer, younger, and perhaps more exciting starting lineup on the field.

And it was Fagundez who lit the spark.

Starting the game at left midfield in a 4-1-4-1 formation, the 5-foot-8-inch, 140-pound midfielder made a darting run from left to right and Kelyn Rowe poked the ball to him. Fagundez kept dribbling to his right, lifting his head and looking for the next pass.

Still an unproven scorer in the MLS — he became the second-youngest player in league history when he scored his first career goal last season, but entered Saturday with just three career goals — the Fire defense backed off and protected against the pass. Fagundez peered up again, saw goalie Sean Johnson inching too close to the near post, and slotted a shot that found the left corner of the net.

“I was trying to pass it and no one was open,” he said. “I saw the back post open so I just took that shot.”

The Leominster native and a junior at Fitchburg High — he’s been taking night classes during the season — then pulled his jersey over his dyed-red mohawk and displayed a handmade T-shirt reading: Happy B-Day Mom.

As Fagundez’s playing time has increased, his creation of scoring chances has followed a similar trend.

“The more minutes you get, the more confident you are,” he said. “During the year I had my ups and downs, and I think right now I’m going up. So I just have to keep working hard.”

The defense contained Chris Rolfe, Chicago’s leading scorer with eight goals, and limited chances on New England’s 25-year-old goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.

Shuttleworth picked up his fourth straight start ahead of 37-year-old Matt Reis and posted his second shutout of the season. He wasn’t tested often, but made a key decision to stay in his net on a cross in the 86th minute, keeping him in position to make a point-blank save off the foot of Patrick Nyarko.

Blair Gavin, the 23-year-old defensive-minded midfielder acquired from Chivas USA on Aug. 1 for the Revolution’s captain Shalrie Joseph, made his first start and was technically sound as part of a midfield unit that forced the Fire to attack from the outside, rarely getting any looks in the middle of the field.

But the way Fagundez spread out the Chicago defense with his wide runs, clean passing and Tasmanian Devil-like cartoonish speed was enough to keep the Fire on their toes.

“He’s constantly moving,” said Chicago coach Frank Klopas. “He’s a smaller guy, so he’s good with the ball and good in tight spaces. He’s always a dangerous guy. And he has a knack for being in the right spot.”

The Revolution finished with a 7-4-6 record at home this year. They end the season at Montreal Saturday.

But the way they used an inexperienced group to shut down a Chicago team Heaps called a “serious contender” left a lot to be hopeful about.

“They have quality players on that team,” Klopas said. “And when they get everybody going, this is a tough place to play and they’re a good team.”