Fagundez highlights Revolution's bright future

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Fagundez highlights Revolution's bright future

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.

Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

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Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

NEW YORK - Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as coach of the U.S. soccer team Monday, six days after a 4-0 loss at Costa Rica dropped the Americans to 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is the favorite to succeed Klinsmann, and his hiring could be announced as early as Tuesday. Arena coached the national team from 1998 to 2006.

Qualifying resumes when the U.S. hosts Honduras on March 24 and plays four days later at Panama.

"While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. "With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth consecutive World Cup."

A former German star forward who has lived mostly in Southern California since retiring as a player in 1998, Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011 and led the team to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and the second round of the 2014 World Cup, where the Americans lost to Belgium in extra time.

The USSF announced in December 2013 a four-year contract extension through 2018, but the successful World Cup was followed by poor performances. The U.S. was knocked out by Jamaica in last year's Gold Cup semifinals and lost to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth. The team rebounded to reach this year's Copa America semifinals before losing to Argentina 4-0. But this month Mexico beat the Americans 2-1 at Columbus, Ohio, in the first home qualifying loss for the U.S. since 2001.

And last week, the Americans were routed in Costa Rica, their largest margin of defeat in qualifying since 1980. They dropped to 0-2 for the first time in the hexagonal, as the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean is known.

While there is time to recover, given the top three teams qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia and the fourth-place finisher advances to a playoff against Asia's No. 5 team, players seemed confused by Klinsmann's tactics, such as a 3-4-1-2 formation used at the start against the Mexicans.

"Today we made the difficult decision of parting ways with Jurgen Klinsmann," Gulati said. "There were considerable achievements along the way ... but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come."

The U.S. had not changed coaches in the middle of qualifying since the USSF made the position a full-time job and hired Bob Gansler in 1989 to replace Lothar Osiander, who also at the time was a waiter at a San Francisco restaurant.

Klinsmann made controversial decisions, such as dropping Landon Donovan from the 2014 World Cup roster while taking along relatively inexperienced players such as John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin. Brooks and Green were among five German-Americans on the 23-man U.S. World Cup roster, which drew criticism from some in the American soccer community.

He coached the team to a 55-27-16 record, including a U.S.-record 12-game winning streak and victories in exhibitions at Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. He has worked in the past year to integrate more young players into the lineup, such as teen midfield sensation Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris.

Arena, a 65-year-old wisecracking Brooklynite known for blunt talk, was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010. He coached the University of Virginia from 1978-95, then coached D.C. United to titles in Major League Soccer's first two seasons before losing in the 1998 final. As U.S. coach, he led the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals in the team's best finish since 1930.

He was let go after the team's first-round elimination in 2006. Gulati unsuccessfully courted Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany and the 1996 European Championship with Germany, then coached his nation to the 2006 World Cup semifinals.

When Gulati and Klinsmann couldn't reach an agreement, the USSF hired Bradley, who coached the team to the second round of the 2010 World Cup. A year later, the Americans stumbled in the Gold Cup, and Klinsmann replaced Bradley.

Arena coached the New York Red Bulls of MLS from July 2006 to November 2007, then was hired the following August by the Galaxy. He led the team to MLS titles in 2011, '12 and '14.