Fagundez highlights Revolution's bright future

Fagundez highlights Revolution's bright future
March 9, 2012, 3:23 pm
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FOXBORO -- If expectations can be managed through the reality of having your face plastered on a billboard, then the New England Revolution will have to prove it.

On that billboard -- located along the re-energized South Boston waterfront -- shows two faces. On the left is Shalrie Joseph. Entering his 10th MLS season, he is the Revolution's captain. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, he turns 34 in May.

Next to him on that billboard, is 17-year-old forward Diego Fagundez. He's a sophomore at Leominster High School, and listed at 5-foot-8, 140 pounds, he enters his first full season with New England as the Revs' first-ever homegrown player.

Entering the 2012 MLS season, the Revolution find themselves in a tough position. They've missed out on the playoffs the last two years. Season-ticket sales are down. They're adjusting to a new coach in Jay Heaps. And they've added 11 new players and four international players since the 2011 season came to an uneventful and disappointing end.

Both team president Brian Bilello and general manager Michael Burns insist that they are committed to getting the organization back to respectability, the type of respectability that they had previously earned from going to three-straight MLS Cups in 2005, 2006, and 2007.

So they added a new weight-training facility for the team at Gillette Stadium. They even hired a strength and conditioning coach and added a strength and conditioning program for the players. All in the search to help find a new identity, for what they hope will be a new, promising start.

But they may not have to look much further than the kid who's still in high school, and shares a promotional billboard on the Boston Harbor.

Last year at this time, Fagundez was playing exclusively for the Academy teams. He made his MLS debut on Aug. 6 of last season. In that debut -- which he entered the game as a second-half substitute -- Fagundez drew a penalty kick almost immediately as he hit the pitch. It led to a Joseph goal on that ensuing penalty kick, cutting Chivas USA's lead to 2-1 in the 69th minute.

Chivas made it 3-1 in the 80th minute, but Fagundez quickly answered with his first-career goal in the 86th minute, making him the second-youngest player in MLS history to score a goal.

The Revolution lost 3-2. But the point was clear. The kid could play.

And to think, he was in the middle of his first high-school summer vacation.

Fagundez finished the season with six regular-season appearances in the final three months, while making three starts. He also recorded two goals and an assist during that time.

His impact was made, and now, he's preparing for his first full season as a professional.

"My personal goal is probably to stay in the starting 18, and probably move up to the starting 11," said Fagundez on Tuesday's media day at Gillette Stadium. "And it's all going to take hard work right now. I'm hoping to help out the team a lot, when I go on the field."

The Revolution finished last season with a dismal 5-16-13 record, while missing out on the postseason for the second straight season. They also had the third-lowest goal total, with 38, just three more than the worst offensive team in the league.

New England's captain is hoping that will change in 2012. He's hopeful because of Fagundez' skill level.

"I expect him to be better than he was last year," said Joseph on Tuesday. "I think he will, because he definitely came in this season and worked hard in the preseason. He's in the weight room, he's doing the things that are necessary to be a professional at a young age.

"If he can continue to push himself, I think he'll get 8 to 10 goals. That's what I can expect from him, as long as he sees playing time this year."

That's just as many goals as Joseph had last year. The captain led his team with eight goals. And now, in the following preseason, he's hopeful that Fagundez doesn't just match that goal total, but also surpasses it.

Still, New England's front office is trying to manage those expectations, a phrase that was repeated several times when asked about Fagundez on Tuesday.

"We tried to manage him, and the expectations of him, as best we could," said Burns. "We certainly don't want to give him too much, too soon.

"He's gone to where he was 12 months ago, to a full-time member of the travel party, preseason exclusively. We've worked with his high school, in terms of keeping him in track to get his degree. He's still taking classes, so, he's in the most unique situation of any player on our team.

"It's important to Jay, it's important to myself and the organization, that we manage this as best we can," added Burns. "We're very, very cognizant of the fact that he's a special case. And so, we think he's got a very bright future. But again, we want to manage the expectations. We don't want to give him too much, too soon. We think we've done a decent job to date, and we'll continue to monitor him, both on and off the field, considering his age."

It's a tough task, no doubt, considering that age. And Burns said that, ultimately, Fagundez' playing time is up to Heaps.

The captain also realizes that Fagundez' playing time is up to the new coach. But if the 17-year-old stud gets the playing time he probably deserves -- regardless of age -- then the Revs realize the potential.

"I'll leave that up to the coach to make that decision, but he's been working hard in preseason, and every day he comes in and pushes himself to be better," said Joseph about Fagundez. "So hopefully that can translate onto the field.

"I think if he gets the minutes he deserves, you'll definitely see him score some goals and creating chances. Just doing everything the team needs him to do."

And they need him to score goals, in order to get wins, and in order to get back to respectability.

Other names will be mentioned throughout the season, for sure. Many needing to impact the game in certain ways, in order to be successful and get back into the playoffs. But, like Burns pointed out, Fagundez is a special case. And if given the opportunity, his name may be mentioned much more than the others. So managing those expectations the way they'd like, may be difficult.

Still, Fagundez isn't yet overwhelmed with the hype.

"We have a new coach right now, so we have to earn our our spots," he said. "Not anyone just has their own spot in the starting 11. I think every player that's in here right now, is trying to earn their spot. So it is harder than last year."

Perhaps Fagundez hasn't seen his face on that billboard.