FOXBOROUGH — When New England Revolution outside midfielder Diego Fagundez racked up 13 goals and seven assists in his breakthrough 2013 season as an 18-year-old, he seemed destined to become the Revs’ next face of the franchise and even a candidate to play abroad in Europe.
The path to stardom isn’t always a straight line, though, as Fagundez has found out. Teams learned how to defend his solo exploits and Revolution coach Jay Heaps focused on developing Fagundez as a two-way player, who can both defend the flanks and fit into the team concept on offense.
Four years later, Fagundez is finally living up to the potential he showed as a precocious teenager. On Saturday, the now 22-year-old recorded his first three-assist game as the Revolution held on to beat the LA Galaxy, 4-3, at Gillette Stadium to break out of a four-game losing skid.
“I go out there and give it 110 percent every game no matter what it is,” Fagundez said. “I can score goals and help out my team that way, but if I can give assists I’m happy with it. As long as we’re getting the W at the end of the day I think the whole team’s going to be happy about it.”
Fagundez’s big performance catapulted him into the team lead and set a new career-high for assists with eight this season. He is also now tied with three other players for the sixth-most assists in MLS, leading Heaps to compare his impact to that of team captain Lee Nguyen.
“Everyone looked at him, ‘Oh, he scored the 13 goals in one season,'” Heaps said after Saturday’s victory over the Galaxy. “Now you look at him and to put in the shift he did defensively, and then creating and not just being someone that scores the goals, but to make our team go is something we know he can do, and now he’s really taking it and doing a great job. He and Lee (Nguyen) are really pulling the strings from different angles and different places and it was awesome to see.”
Along with assisting on goals at a career-best clip, Fagundez is also on pace to set a career-highs this season in starts, minutes played, shots, shots on goal and is fourth on the team with four goals.
Although Fagundez is firmly in the mix for the Revolutions’ 2017 team MVP, over the past three seasons he’s fallen in and out of favor, bouncing back and forth from starter to substitute.
In 2014, Fagundez provided two-thirds of his offensive production for the entire season during a three-game stretch in May when he had four goals and two assists. During a year in which the Revs made it to the MLS Cup final, he was perhaps the team’s most disappointing player.
Fagundez’s slump continued into 2015, as he was often relegated to a substitute role and scored just twice over the first 21 matches before exploding for goals in four straight games — all of them wins — across late August and September to rally the Revolution back into the playoffs.
Although Fagundez regained his starting role and tallied six goals and six assists last year, it was a similar story to 2015 as he saved his best for last, finishing the season with three goals and four assists over the final seven games as the Revs rallied late but missed out on the playoffs.
Now, the Revolution are again in need of a big closing run, sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with 23 points, which is eight points out of the final playoff spot with 14 games left.
“I feel like we’ve played every year the same way,” Fagundez said. “We hit that slope and we always get out of it, but I hope we get out of it soon. I think this might be our turnaround where we can now keep fighting for every point we can and hopefully make the playoffs at the end of the day.”
This year it would be hard to place any of the blame on Fagundez’s contributions.
“When you reflect on some of the prouder progressions, he’s one of them,” Heaps said.
Seven years and 171 games into Fagundez’s professional career, it’s easy to forget that he’s still the same age as many of the players that enter MLS after college.
Fagundez is one of the big success stories of the MLS academy systems since signing with the Revs as a 16-year-old back in 2011. He leads all Homegrown field players in MLS history with 11,209 career minutes and was the league’s youngest player to appear in 100 games.
Now, with plenty of experience under his belt, it looks like Fagundez is finally entering his prime.