With MLS's 19th season kicking off this weekend, the Youth Soccer Insider's "When They Were Children" series is looking back at the formative years of some of the league's brightest stars, starting with a teen sensation and last year's league MVP.
By Mike Woitalla
Diego Fagundez (New England Revolution)
The 19-year-old Diego Fagundez is so popular among the New England Revolution’s young fans that his teammates call him “MLS’s Justin Bieber.”
For a kid who aimed to be a goalscorer, Fagundez had a very suitable playmate. His father, Washington Fagundez, had been a professional goalkeeper.
“He never coached my team,” said Diego, now already in his fourth MLS season. “But we’d go to a field and shoot around. That’s how I got better. We’d get 20 balls and take shots everyday. He would show me where good shots go, where no keeper can reach. Then I’d aim for those spots.”
Fagundez finished the 2013 season with a team-leading 13 goals, which upped his league total to 17, breaking the record for most MLS goals by a teen.
Fagundez’s introduction to the soccer ball came when he started kicking one around the house and he said he already played on a team at age 3 in Uruguay. His father played for Montevideo club Central Espanol. When Diego was 5, the family went on vacation to the USA to visit relatives and never left, settling in Leominster, Mass., where Diego joined the local recreational league.
“I was playing Leominster youth soccer and another coach said I should join his club [FC United],” said Fagundez. “I didn’t even know what travel team was, but for me that was a step forward.”
After playing with F.C. United and FC Greater Boston Bolts, Fagundez joined the Revolution’s Academy program. In November of 2010, he signed a senior contract with the Revs. Fagundez got rides from his parents to high school and Revs’ practices.
“When I was 7 years old I would go around telling my teachers I’m going to be a professional soccer player,” he said. “They’d say, 'No, you have to finish school …’ and this and that, ‘It’s hard to be a professional.’ To this day I still laugh when I see those teachers and tell them, ‘See, I told you.’”
Mike Magee (Chicago Fire)
Last season's league MVP after scoring 21 goals, Mike Magee is in his 12th MLS season.
“I joined soccer because it started the earliest, at age 4 or 5,” Magee said. “I had to wait for baseball. My parents had to get me out of the house!”
He eventually joined youth powerhouse Chicago Sockers FC, which has also spawned another 2013 MLS Best XI pick Will Johnson and U.S. stars Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit and Michael Bradley, the son of Bob Bradley, who let young Magee join the Chicago Fire at some practices.
“Oh, man,” he recalled. “I went to train with the Fire when I was like 15 years old, and I realized right away it’s pretty cutthroat, especially seeing guys like Peter Nowak, and [Hristo Stoitchov] and [Carlos] Bocanegra and [Ante] Razov. I had a lot of pretty good examples at a young age, it definitely wasn’t all smiles and helping everyone out. It was a really good experience for me.”
Magee left his Illinois home at 15 for Bradenton, Fla., to join the U.S. U-17 national team Residency Program. After appearing in the 2001 U-17 World Cup then-MetroStars coach Bob Bradley drafted him and made him a regular in his rookie season of 2003.
Previous editions of the Youth Soccer Insider’s “When They Were Children” series:
MLS 2014 SuperDraft Picks: Andre Blake, Steve Birnbaum, Christian Dean, Steve Neumann, Eric Miller, Damion Lowe.
Darlington Nagbe, Sean Johnson, Nick Rimando, Luis Silva, Juan Agudelo
Mario Balotelli & Philipp Lahm
Nani & David Silva
Cristiano Ronaldo & Danny Welbeck
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andres Iniesta & Andriy Shevchenko
U.S. Women World Cup 2011 (Alex Morgan & Co.)
Logan Pause, David Ferreira, Fredy Montero, Dwayne De Rosario, CJ Sapong, Perry Kitchen, Tim Ream