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Red Bulls wary of star Fagundez, Armas reassures Valot ahead of long recovery

New York prepares for its mirror image in New England, with a keen eye on Diego Fagundez.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at New England Revolution
Diego Fagundez points at teammates following his match-tying goal in first-half stoppage time against the Red Bulls, on June 2, at Gillette Stadium.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Bradley Wright-Phillips was parading with heel clicks toward the Gillette Stadium end-line on June 2, a signal of business as usual, despite the reality in which international call-ups, injury and turf precautions left four regulars absent from the team, and one regular on the bench to start.

The eighth minute strike from Wright-Phillips, off a recovery tackle by Vincent Bezecourt and a pinpoint cross via Sean Davis, seemed to be all the Red Bulls – winners of three consecutive road matches at the time – needed. However, seconds before halftime, a moment of magic from Revolution midfielder Diego Fagundez leveled the score and reset the game heading into the second half.

The 23-year-old Uruguayan received a skipping ball from Krisztian Nemeth and rocketed a shot into the net with one swift kick. The Red Bulls dropped the match, 2-1, but have a chance to rectify that result at home on Saturday night.

“The last game was sort of frustrating for us because, for the bulk of the game, I felt like we had that, and yet, we let it slip,” Luis Robles, who was unavailable for that June 2 match, said on Thursday. “And so, we’ll be mindful of that, knowing that, they can strike pretty quickly and that we have to be aware.”

Despite his still relative youth, Fagundez has been a fixture for the Revolution dating back to 2011. He became the first homegrown signing for New England on Nov. 15, 2010, and on June 30 became the youngest player in league history to amass 200 career appearances.

“To me, a lot of it runs through Fagundez,” Robles said. “I mean, this guy, it’s crazy, he’s 23 or 24-years-old, he’s like a nine-year vet.”

“And it speaks to his quality as a player,” Robles added. “And, he continues to be the engine that runs this team, and if we’re not aware of him then, like he scored on us in the first game, he can punish us very quickly.”

Once known for his loud mohawk, Fagundez has evolved as much as his hair in the eight-plus years since he first signed with the Revolution. The midfielder has already equaled his seven-goal total from last season, and his seven assists are one shy of a career-high, with 14 regular season games to spare.

Diego Fagundez made his MLS debut at only 16-years-old, scoring in a 3-2 loss to the defunct Chivas USA, on Aug. 6, 2011.
Jim Rogash, Getty Images

“He’s one of those crafty, unpredictable players that’s super hard to defend,” Tyler Adams, who was also unavailable for that June 2 match, said on Thursday. “He’s small, he’s agile, and those are the toughest players to play against; kind of like Kaku in a sense, where they’re always on the move, they’re always trying to make a difference.”

“So, just in general, whoever’s around him on the day, it’s important to try and shut him down,” Adams added. “The less that he can create, the less that they can create.”

During his tenure, Fagundez has been witness to three head coaches, catching the twilight of Steve Nicol’s decade-long tenure, followed by nearly six seasons with Jay Heaps, and now, a first under Brad Friedel.

Opposite of Friedel on Saturday will be Chris Armas, the newly-appointed Red Bulls coach, who is aware of Fagundez and the many other attacking dangers that the Revolution’s crowded, forward-thinking midfield deploys.

Armas has been minus one of his most positive attacking players since his first practice as head coach. It was during that morning session on July 5 that midfielder Florian Valot tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The injury was devastating for Valot, who had earned a starting role in MLS after two years at Rider University and two seasons with Red Bulls II in the USL.

After his injury, Florian Valot spent time in the booth at MSU Soccer Park at Pittser Field, performing color commentary during Red Bulls II’s 5-1 win over the Richmond Kickers on July 13.
Twitter, @florian_valot

The Red Bulls head coach is familiar with the taxing and lonely road to recovery from an ACL tear. The rehab is imposing, but Armas knows what was once a career-ending injury is no longer a death sentence to one’s playing days.

“It’s a, it’s a big knee injury, you know, but I mean, nowadays, I don’t know, they’ve convinced me it’s the perfect surgery, like, that’s the one to do,” Armas said on Thursday, trying to add humor to a difficult situation. “So, I’ve done it twice, and I’ve come back strong twice.”

“But, you know, that’s the easy way to say it,” Armas added. “The tough thing is that it’s a, it is a big surgery, and it’s just time away from what you love. So, that love gets taken away, which, I don’t know, I’ll be convincing him, because I know it’s true, that you come back stronger.”

“You get the love taken away and you focus on other parts of your game, strengthen your body elsewhere, and your mind comes back with an edge,” Armas went on to say.

Becoming more comfortable in his new role each day, the schedule lined up interestingly for Armas, with three of his first six matches as head coach against the three oldest tenured managers in the league, and the other three against managers in their inaugural season in charge.

In most cases, the novelty of a coach like Friedel would make strategizing for a match difficult. However, for the high-press Red Bulls, this newest incarnation of the Revolution offers very little that they don’t already emphasize themselves.

“They work hard, they play together, there’s good energy in that team,” Armas said. “But, I think what you see most from them is, they’re combative, they’re vertical…sounds very familiar.”