Fagundez, 16, looked like an old pro in debut
Diego Fagundez did not have an answer for his classmates.
Fagundez returned to classes at Leominster High School last Thursday, two days after making his debut as a professional with the Revolution. He had nearly scored a late goal in a 3-2 win over D.C. United in a US Open Cup game in Boyds, Md. And, after fending off hardened pro defenders for the first time in a competitive match, Fagundez had to deal with questions from curious peers.
“When I got back to school, it was a little different,’’ Fagundez said. “Everyone was talking about me while I was gone, and it was fun to be back. They wanted to know how it had been and they wanted to know, if I scored, what I would have done. I really don’t know what I would have done. I would have been surprised.’’
The surprises started the previous week, as Easter vacation allowed Fagundez time to train with the first team for the first time since signing with the Revolution as a 15-year-old in November. Then things started happening quickly. After three days of workouts, Revolution coach Steve Nicol decided Fagundez was worthy of making the travel squad.
But that hardly indicated that Fagundez would actually see action. At this stage, MLS teams are juggling obligations, and they are reluctant to commit many starting players as the regular season takes priority over the US Open Cup.
The Revolution would be playing three games in a week, so most of the regulars stayed home. Among the starters was former France national team midfielder Ousmane Dabo, who played 15 years in the top divisions of Europe. Dabo, recovering from a calf injury, made his first Revolution appearance.
In the 76th minute, with the Revolution holding a 3-1 lead, Fagundez replaced Dabo, becoming the youngest player to appear in a game for the Revolution, 71 days after his 16th birthday.
“I was a little surprised to be on the trip,’’ Fagundez said. “But at training I did good, and they told me if I got permission from school to go, they were going to take me. I had to go to school and get a letter from the principal to be able to travel with them.
“I hope they take me on the next one because I proved I can be on the field.’’
Nicol plans for Fagundez to participate in the next round of the US Open Cup, a May 25 visit to Sporting Kansas City. But, until the school year ends in June, Fagundez’s practice time will be limited to workouts with the Academy teams.
“He’s smart, he has a football brain,’’ Nicol said. “He reads the game pretty well, has a good idea what’s going on. He’s not strong physically but, hopefully, any chance he gets to be training with us would be great, because he’s got ability.
“He’ll be coming to play with the reserves whenever he can and he’ll be coming with us to the Cup games. He was not over-awed at all. That was no problem, he was one of us. Obviously, he lacks a wee bit of experience.’’
Fagundez lined up in a forward position, in support of Alan Koger, a second-half substitute who scored the Revolution’s third goal.
And he nearly scored.
“I missed by, like, 3 inches,’’ Fagundez said. “I was going to pass to Kheli Dube but a defender cut by and I said I have to go for the shot. I had a dream the day before I was going to score in the game, but as soon as I missed that — the dream didn’t come true.’’
Fagundez displayed enough attacking talent to encourage Nicol.
“He almost put it in the bottom corner,’’ Nicol said. “He has a good idea of what he’s doing and he was close to getting his goal, but he was unfortunate in the end.
“So far, he’s been very promising and we like what we’ve seen. If he continues to improve, we’ll see what happens. He’ll be in an offensive position. He looks to score goals, that’s for sure.’’
Fagundez, listed at 5 feet 8 inches, 125 pounds, is competing against players twice his age, and his spiked hair makes him seem even younger. But he quickly fit in on the field with his teammates and was able to avoid some tough-tackling opponents.
“It was fun,’’ Fagundez said of working out with the Revolution. “It was a little more competitive, harder passing, a little rough but not really. We aren’t wearing shinguards and we all understand we don’t want to get hurt, we’re teammates. And you’re playing with good players, [Shalrie] Joseph, Matt Reis in goal.
“In the game, I got pushed a little bit but I wasn’t really on the floor a lot. I was trying to be stronger than them, but sometimes that didn’t work out. I had to mark guys on corner kicks, and I usually never have to do that.
“The game went well and I felt like the team actually wanted me to play and stuff. I wasn’t expecting any playing time but Steve Nicol thought I was ready to play. He told me to keep the ball, not lose it, and give good passes, and I did good on that.’’
The Revolution set the pace in the game, taking a 2-0 halftime lead on goals by Dube, then extended the edge to three goals. D.C. United started inserting starters — first Chris Pontius, then Charlie Davies, and Dax McCarty. United rallied on goals by Branko Boskovic, who is captain of the national team of Montenegro, but the Revolution held on.
“The part I really liked was the environment, with players like that on the field,’’ Fagundez said. “And the fans were nice and loud. Even though we were in D.C., they made a lot of noise for us.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.