If Diego Fagundez dreams of playing professional soccer outside of the United States, his biggest choice was his best one.
Uruguay’s U-20 national team named Fagundez to its 23-man squad for the upcoming South American Youth Championship on Monday, the New England Revolution said in a statement. If Fagundez, 19, plays in the tournament, which takes place in Uruguay from Jan. 14 through Feb. 7, or in this summer’s 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup, he forever will be ineligible to play for the United States national team at any level.
Fagundez was born in Uruguay, but his soccer journey began in earnest right here in New England after his family settled in Leominster, Mass., when he was 5. Fagundez’s talent shined brightly, the Revolution brought him into their youth system (at age 14), and the rest is history.
Fagundez now is one of U.S. Soccer’s hottest prospects, but he’ll never play for Team USA because of FIFA’s rules. Fagundez won’t be eligible for United States citizenship until 2018, and only players who have dual citizenship when they play their first FIFA-sanctioned competitive game can change their soccer allegiances at a later date.
Then there’s the small matter of how much U.S. Soccer wants Fagundez. He played for the U.S. U-14 team in 2008 and 2009, but U.S. Soccer stopped calling him up when it learned he wasn’t an American citizen. Fagundez told ESPN in December that U.S. Soccer hasn’t communicated whether it still is interested in him playing for his adopted country, so he joined up with Uruguay one month before one of world soccer’s biggest showcase events.
“I am excited for the opportunity to represent Uruguay at the U-20 Championship and to have the tournament held in the country that I was born makes it that much more special,” Fagundez said Monday. “I will give everything that I have to try and help my team win a championship at home in front of our fans.”
Fagundez could light up MLS, as he did in 2013 (but not 2014) without drawing transfer interest from major clubs in Europe or South America. That’s simply a fact of life for American players who don’t shine in major tournaments at youth or senior levels.
But Fagundez can raise his stock with a single, strong showing in Uruguay’s sky-blue jersey. Next month’s South American Youth Championship is the qualifying tournament for both the 2015 U-20 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Should Uruguay qualify, Fagundez might have two chances to play in two major tournaments this year and one (or more) next year. Scouts from major clubs near and far will be present at all three events in search of the next big thing. They always are.
Fagundez’s decision looks like a no-brainer. Instead of waiting until 2018 for a U.S. call-up that might never come, Fagundez is putting himself in a bigger shop window right now. Like all players, he has less than 20 years to make the most of his career — both in sporting and financial terms.
Many Revolution fans would love for Fagundez to spend his entire career in New England and lead their club to untold glories. Team USA probably would benefit from his mix of ability and experience. But Fagundez might not want that for himself. If that’s the case, the Revolution starlet has made the right call.
Thumbnail photo via Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports Images
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