FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For better or for worse, Diego Fagundez attracts attention. His precocious talents earned him a professional contract at age 15. His early contributions merited a contract extension from the New England Revolution just after he turned 18.
All of that scrutiny increases expectations on the promising forward. In a world where production always trumps potential, the pressure to thrive immediately is inevitable. Those demands conflict with how New England prefers to handle Fagundez's ongoing progression from Homegrown signing to first-team fixture.
“What you want fans to understand -- and really want soccer fans to understand -- is that this is a process,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps told MLSsoccer.com. “He's only 18. Literally, if he was in college, he might be starting his freshman year. We have to take that into account when we're traveling him, when we're giving him minutes, when we're asking him to finish high school and play professionally. There's a lot on his plate. I think that stuff, he handles well.”
It has taken Fagundez some time to reach this point. The past couple years have offered a significant education on and off the field. Under the direction of technical staffers and veteran teammates, Fagundez slowly but surely learned how to comport himself as a professional and place himself in the right position to succeed when he takes the field.
“I always listen to what they want me to do,” Fagundez said. “So whatever they're expecting me to do, I try to show them that I can do that. If coach Jay Heaps says to go try and score a goal like you did last year, then I step on the field and try to do that. It's simple things that we're trying to do. Different coaches have different things that they want players to do. You just have to listen to what they want me to do.”
Fagundez's desire to accept guidance led him to alter his approach to the game during the offseason. He committed himself to staying in shape. He hired a personal trainer. He outlined his goals – making a greater mark, obtaining regular playing time – and placed himself in a position to pursue them ardently. Heaps said he has noticed the difference so far this season.
Journey to Excellence - Diego Fagundez
“He's just 18,” Heaps said. “There are ups and downs. What we've asked of him this year is to come back with a professional mentality. He certainly has. We ask a lot of him, being so young. But, at the same time, he gets better every time he steps on the field. There will be forward and backward movement in terms of where he develops, but he has the mentality now of being a professional and being in an environment where we expect him to take care of his body. You can see the strides he's making.”
The decision to offer Fagundez a new contract represents a sign of faith in his ability to continue his development over the next few years. He will do so under the bright spotlight created by excelling at such an early age and playing for his local club, but Revolution general manager Michael Burns remains confident that he will exceed all of the expectations placed upon him in due course.
“Without a doubt, a large part of the reason behind this was because of the potential we do see in him,” Burns said. “We also try to manage the expectations everyone else has of him because he's in a very unique situation. He's the only player still taking high school classes and getting his high school degree. That – on top of being a professional player – we try to manage as best we can.
"For sure, we think he's got an enormous amount of potential and ability. That's a large part of why we sat down and tried to get something done with him.”