New England Revolution boosted by improved Diego Fagundez

Diego Fagundez's breakout season was and always will be 2013, when the precocious New England Revolution forward, just 18 years old at the time, torched MLS defenses to the tune of 13 goals in 31 games.

It remains among the most impressive campaigns by any youngster in league history. Three years later, Revs coach Jay Heaps can admit that he was actually hoping to get the Uruguayan-born, Massachusetts-raised Fagundez off the field much of the time.

"During that year he was only averaging 15 to 25 touches a game," said Heaps in a phone interview ahead of New England's Sunday matinee at Orlando City (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN). The Revs boss explained in further that Fagundez's defensive shortcomings were proving harmful.

"He wasn't impacting the game at all other than scoring. That's huge; he's so talented that we'd have to keep him on the field to score if we were down a goal, but keeping him on was hurting us in other areas," said Heaps.

Knowing how much room Fagundez had to grow, GM Mike Burns told ESPN that New England resisted the temptation to relentlessly market the homegrown prodigy the way other teams might have. When the Revs added depth up front with Teal Bunbury and Charlie Davies ahead of the 2014 season -- one that ended with an extra-time MLS Cup loss to the LA Galaxy -- Fagundez was forced to start almost from scratch.

"He didn't play as much in 2014 and '15 because we had so much competition," Heaps said. "We had a lot of conversations about it. I think Diego has dug really deep so far this season where he's putting in the effort on both sides of the ball. He's way more tactically in-tune."

He has also rediscovered his hot foot. After scoring just 11 goals during the past two seasons, Fagundez already has two in six games this year: a long-range strike against the Houston Dynamo on opening day and last week's winner against the rival New York Red Bulls.

He's now averaging between 60 and 80 touches a game, according to Heaps.

"That shows you where he's winning the ball, where he's changing the game," Heaps said. "He's doing a lot more for the team and we've been a lot more successful because of it. He's hard to take off the field now."

Fagundez credits his progress to several things: his family (his father played professionally in Uruguay); hard work in the gym during the winter by adding muscle to his slight frame to better cope with the rough-and-tumble tactics in MLS; and patience.

"Every year everything gets better little by little," said Fagundez. "I came into preseason ready to compete and earn a spot. I wanted my confidence to go up and it did the first game against Houston, but it can be so much more. Hopefully it's a good year."

Now 21, he has matured as a person, too. Fagundez is into his second year of living on his own. He has mouths to feed: two dogs, a Pit Bull-hound mix named Bella, and Luna, a black lab. "Both rescues," he said.

Inside the Revolution's locker room, he enjoys the status that comes with being one of the club's longest-tenured players.

"We knew when we signed him at 15 that he had a ton of potential but in the back of your mind, you didn't know for sure," Burns said. "One thing we really tried to do over these last five or six years as an organization is manage the expectations for him: on the field, with the media, with fans. It's an awful lot for a teenager to be thrown into this environment. He's handled it remarkably well. We have to remind ourselves sometimes that he's a 21-year-old player, but he's done a really good job of keeping his head on his shoulders."

And he appears to be in the early stages of another breakout season. Fagundez is settled; he committed his future to New England by signing a multi-year contract extension with the club in January. He's hoping to earn another look for Uruguay's national team program.

"I know that if I keep scoring goals and work hard to help the team out defensively, people are going to notice," he said. Fagundez has represented Uruguay at youth level but was left off its roster for last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand -- a disappointment that he's made the best of.

"Having to deal with that rejection really impacted him and drove him even more to become a better player," Heaps said. "It's all part of the growing up process."

That process continues, and Revs captain Jose Goncalves is convinced the sky is the limit.

"He's a talented kid who loves the game," he said. "He has the quality. What he needed was more experience. He's learned. He's a veteran on the field and off the field now, too."

In what should be a tight Eastern Conference in 2016, an improved Fagundez is just the boost the Revs need.