By CARL SETTERLUND
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution have always been careful about the development of now 19-year-old Diego Fagundez, and the electric left winger has finally righted the course on offense the last three weeks with four goals and two assists over that stretch.
Before that, Fagundez showed maturity beyond his years as he went goalless over the first nine games, but didn’t let the drought affect the rest of his game, according to Revs coach Jay Heaps.
“I think it’s just maintaining the course,” Heaps said. “He was training really well during that whole time that he didn’t score under the big lights, but at the same time he was doing things that we expect of him. Things that he could control he was doing, which was his attitude, his effort, his defensive responsibilities.”
Fagundez was still able to make shots for himself – he’s 10th in MLS in shots (35) and ninth in shots on goal (14) – but things have opened up for the teenager since center forward Patrick Mullins was inserted into the starting lineup four games ago.
Fagundez has two points in each of the last three games and has combined well with Mullins, who Fagundez has assisted each of the past two games.
“After I scored that first goal this season,” Fagundez said after topping D.C. United 2-1 last weekend, “it opened up a lot for me.”
Here are some other notes from Revs training:
GONCALVES GOES FULL 90
Jose Goncalves made his return to the pitch last Saturday against D.C., and while most players would be eased back into the lineup after a five-game layoff, Goncalves – known for his reliability and conditioning – isn’t most players.
Heaps left the Revs’ captain in for the full 90 minutes against a veteran, Eastern Conference rival, and the roster variables reflected that he had planned for that all along as Heaps chose just one true defender (Darrius Barnes) for his bench.
“I think Jose has been ready for a little while, but last week was what we thought was the right time to put him in,” Heaps said. “He was ready to go 90 minutes.”
On Thursday, Goncalves said he felt “very good” being back in a game situation.
ALSTON CLOSE TO RETURN
In other injury-related news, wingback Kevin Alston looks set to return to the game day 18 this week after missing the last three games with a bum hamstring.
“He’s actually doing very well,” Heaps said. “He trained partial sessions last week and full sessions this week.”
With Goncalves back to manning the middle, Alston faces strong competition for playing time on the flanks, with Andrew Farrell, Chris Tierney, Barnes and O’Brian Woodbine also in the mix.
Before injuring himself against Toronto FC on May 3, the 26-year-old Alston had been starting at left back and was in his best run of form in recent memory.
CALDWELL THE CLOSER
In New England, old-timers tell of how legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach would light a victory cigar when he knew the Celtics had wrapped up a win.
This year, the Revolution’s version of a victory cigar has been defensive midfielder Scott Caldwell as they are 7-0-1 in the eight games Caldwell has subbed into.
“With my position, I’m typically not going to go into a game if we’re losing,” said Caldwell, who has been supplanted as a starter this season by the reinvigorated Andy Dorman.
That doesn’t mean the 23-year-old Caldwell hasn’t still been effective in his 159 substitute minutes.
Over that period, New England has outscored opponents 6-2 in late game situations, helped by Caldwell’s possession-oriented game.
The two goals conceded came in a 5-3 blowout over the Philadelphia Union two weekends ago, while Caldwell also assisted on a late Lee Nguyen winner against San Jose back in March.
Rookie first rounder Steve Neumann has similarly settled into a consistent role, subbing on in each of the last six games and making the active roster the past nine.
The midfielder has found a way to make an impact in even fewer minutes than Caldwell, last week making a save off the goal line one minute after coming on in the 88th minute.
“Both those players in particular are pushing,” Heaps said. “They’re not complacent and happy to be coming off the bench, they want to have bigger roles and I love that.”
What do you think? Has the emergence of Mullins been a turning point for Fagundez? Should Alston return to the starting lineup? Have Caldwell and Neumann earned more minutes down the road?
Share your thoughts below.