FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Earlier this season, a snakebitten Diego Fagundez said that once he found the back of the net, his scoring troubles would subside. It was just a matter of getting that elusive first goal.
So far, Fagundez’s words have proven prophetic, as the Revolution midfielder has gone on a four-goal tear since grabbing his first of the season two weeks ago against Seattle.
“After I scored that first goal this season it opened up a lot for me,” Fagundez said after Saturday’s 2-1 win over D.C. United. “I think a lot of other players will tell you the same thing.”
Of course, the difference between Fagundez and “a lot of other players” is the weight of the expectations the 19-year-old had to shoulder coming in the 2014 season – fairly or unfairly.
Last year, the gifted midfielder collected a team-high 13 goals, the most any teenager has ever scored during a single season in MLS history. Naturally, opponents started taking notice. And it wasn’t long before a billboard-sized target was placed on Fagundez’s back.
Given his unimposing stature (5-8, 140 lbs.), opposing defenders started shoving Fagundez off the ball whenever possible. And then there were times in which an opposing player would throw an elbow in his direction even when Fagundez wasn’t involved in the action. The idea: punish Fagundez when he had the ball, and bully him when he didn’t have it.
Despite the physical and mental toll he endured through the first nine games, Fagundez eventually broke through on May 11 vs. Seattle. In a game that was wide open from the start, Fagundez finally broke the seal in the 29th minute, then added another 11 minutes later to lead the Revolution to a 5-0 romp.
A week after picking up his long-awaited first goal of the season, he tallied another in a 5-3 win over Philadelphia. By any measure, it appeared the funk Fagundez was stuck in earlier in the season was nothing more than an aberration.
But on Saturday against D.C., Fagundez may have punched the time card on his best performance of the season. Not only did he set up the opening goal – which Patrick Mullins scored in the 55th minute – but he grabbed the game winner in the 77th minute.
“I think Mullins and I are working very well with each other – and you can even add Teal (Bunbury) in that,” Fagundez said. “All three of us are working a lot better than in the beginning of the season. We are moving off the ball well and are making good runs.”
The goal have certainly shown that the Fagundez of 2013 is back in the fold, and primed to score more now that he no longer has to worry about to zero that was affixed to his goalscoring total during his first nine games.
But the way the Revolution midfielder sees it, offense and goals are only part of the story behind his rediscovered form. In fact, his thumbnail self-assessment following Saturday’s game offered some insight about what Fagundez deems a successful performance.
“I thought I did well on both sides of the field,” Fagundez said. “I think I worked hard defensively, and I think that if you do that offensively everything else just comes.”