Fagundez strives to earn his swagger

BOSTON -- The concept of not taking anything for granted may sound clichéd and trite within the confines of countless locker rooms, but to Diego Fagundez it’s become a personal credo.

Even though he became a league-wide sensation last year after scoring a team-high 13 goals and playing with undeniable swagger, Fagundez didn't just soak it all up and enjoy it during the offseason. Rather, he approached the winter months with one focus.

“I went into the offseason to train as hard as I can,” Fagundez said. “I wanted to be ready for this year. I hope I start (the 2014 season) where I ended off last year, and not have to start all over, so it’s a matter of hard work.”

If anyone can attest to the benefits of having to constantly wipe the sweat off your brow, it’s the 19-year-old midfielder. For evidence of that, just turn back the clock to last March.

Prior to the 2013 season, coach Jay Heaps and general manager Michael Burns had only one expectation for Fagundez: to arrive at preseason camp fit and healthy. They knew that even though Fagundez had just turned 18, he was capable of making a positive impact on the club’s fortunes if he focused on the simple things.

So Fagundez came to camp with his head down and his mouth shut. He did everything that was asked of him, and then asked for more. But when the season kicked off, he was often a spectator, with only one start afforded to him in the club’s first five games.

Frustration began to creep into his mind, especially as the club’s offense sputtered while he watched from the bench. Fagundez wondered silently: Hadn’t he worked hard enough to belong on the pitch?

Instead of sulking, though, he welcomed any opportunity to stay on the training pitch for extra practice. Anything to show that he meant business. The coaches took notice, and before long, he was in the lineup -- for good.

Many times last season, Fagundez made it look all too easy, but Heaps knows that the wizardry the teenager appears to play with is the byproduct of an insatiable appetite for improvement.

“He’s a player that, every day, is fighting for his time and working hard,” Heaps said. “He understands that every day, he has to get better, and every day he looks to get a little better in training.”

Because of that approach, Heaps isn’t worried about managing expectations for one of the best teenage players to ever set foot on an MLS pitch.

“It’s pretty easy because as a coach, to have that level of a player, the expectations are not what (the media) writes,” Heaps said. “We have our own expectations for Diego (and) when you take the picture, and you (see) it day-by-day, practice-by-practice, it becomes a lot easier (to manage those expectations).”

While Fagundez may indeed be on a higher level than most, even at age 19, he admits that being named a starter for Saturday’s opener in Houston is by no means a certainty in his mind.

“I wouldn’t say I’m going to be an opening day starter,” Fagundez said. “I see it as we’re all fighting for our spots. There’s not one player that knows they’re going to be playing every game. And that’s what I like.”

While Fagundez embraces the perpetual battle for playing time, one thing he’s not as keen on is personal statistics, specifically the impressive ones he put up last year.

“As far as scoring 13 goals and 7 assists, that means nothing to me,” Fagundez said. “It’s a new year, and (there are) new players. I just want to play better, try to help out the team and keep doing what I’ve been doing, and if I can do a lot more for the team, then I would love to.”