Precocious pros; Lack-of-height advantage(?); Reyna on 'players first'

By Mike Woitalla

A player who still needs a ride to practice from his parents scored his first Major League Soccer goal earlier this month. Diego Fagundez, who turned at 16 last Valentine’s Day, made his MLS debut as a 66th minute sub and scored 20 minutes later against Chivas USA.

Born in Uruguay, Fagundez moved to the USA at age 5. His youth clubs included FC United and FC Greater Boston Bolts before joining the New England Revolution's Academy team. Last year, at age 15, the Revs' made him the youngest player signed by MLS since Freddy Adu in 2004 at age 14.

Fagundez, who is entering his sophomore year at Leominster High School, does have his learner’s permit but has been too busy focusing on his new career to take driver’s ed classes. In Scott Barboza’s article, "Revs' teen phenom soaking it in," Fagundez says, "I let my parents drive in the morning so I can sleep an extra hour on the way in. On the way back, I'll drive."

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... Real Salt Lake’s 17-year-old midfielder Luis Gil, who played youth ball for Southern California’s Pateadores before joining the U.S.  U-17 Residency in Bradenton, also scored his first goal in August. (Check out video of Gil and Fagundez's goals HERE.) Texan Omar Salgado, picked No. 1 in the 2011 draft by Vancouver, made the list with a strike in April. Here’s MLS youngest goalscorers:

1. Freddy Adu
D.C. United
2. Diego Fagundez 16
New England
3. Santino Quaranta
D.C. United 2003
4. Eddie Gaven
New York
5. Jozy Altidore
New York
6. Abdus Ibrahim
Toronto FC
7. Andy Najar
D.C. United
8. Eddie Johnson
Dallas 2001
9. Omar Salgado
10. Luis Gil
Real Salt Lake

... Revolution vice president Mike Burns told "You look at teenage phenoms and some of them have hit their peaks at 15, 17 years old, then at 25, you never hear of them again. Some guys develop earlier and others develop later. Some guys that might not be as advanced at 17 might become a fantastic player by the time they're 25. You never know.

"We hope we have [Fagundez] on the right track so that he's not one of those kids you don't hear about 10 years from now."

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… Both Gil and Fagundez are listed as 5-foot-8. Jonathan Wilson of the The Guardian (UK) brought up the size issue in his piece on Spain’s “Dynasty,” which be believes will rule for at least the next decade thanks to the success and technical expertise of Spain's youth teams. They won this year’s U-19 and U-21 European Championship, and Spain played brilliantly at the U-20 World Cup before falling to Brazil on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie in the quarterfinals.

Writes Wilson: “The Spanish game in general, is more prepared to give smaller players their chance. Seven of Spain's starting XI against Brazil were under 6-foot. It is a simplistic theory, but perhaps, particularly at youth level, smaller players have to think more than their larger opponents, and so they develop football intelligence earlier. (England, I note with a shudder, had the tallest squad at the Under-20 World Cup).”

England exited after going four games without scoring.

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...’s J.R. Eskilson, in his piece headlined, “The environment hinders growth in U.S. youth soccer,” spoke with Claudio Reyna, the U.S. Soccer Federation’s Youth Technical Director. Reyna’s comments included, “The kids should not be in stressful environments at this age. …

“As it is now, it is way too focused with parents and coaches dominating. The game is always about the players first. It should be about them, and not about the parents, coaches, and adults who nine times out of 10 screw it for the kids in our country. ...

“We have kids who are hungry and committed, so the focus is to remove [the stress and politics of youth club soccer] from the players."

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... QUITE A RUN.  CASL Chelsea's Eric Steber has been a part of all U.S. Soccer Development Academy Finals since the program’s first season in 2007-08, twice at the U-15/16 level and twice at U-17/18. “Eric has been a leader by example for many years. He is a very quiet person by nature, but all of his teammates feed off of his energy and desire to be successful,” said Rusty Scarborough, CASL’s Director of Coaching, and coach of this year's 5th-place U-17/18 squad. A right back who likes to attack, Steber is entering his freshman year at Furman.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at

8 comments about "Precocious pros; Lack-of-height advantage(?); Reyna on 'players first'".
  1. Paolo Jacobs, August 18, 2011 at 7:48 a.m.

    Interesting perspectives

  2. Paul Giavanopoulos, August 18, 2011 at 10:44 a.m.

    great article Mike. As much as Klins and Claudio have their heart and brains in the right place, I am not optimistic that anything will change. a very good friend of mine that lives in Texas made this observation this year. his son's age group went academy. no small players made the academy team. I really don't see how Claudio can change this, or if anyone will listen to him.

  3. Brian Something, August 18, 2011 at 11:42 a.m.

    A huge number of top class players from South America and Iberia are 5’7 or thereabouts. Messi, Aguero, Xavi, Iniesta... back in the day, Maradona. Smaller players are always going to lose out on sheer athleticism (speed and power) but as a result, often work harder at developing skill because they have to have something in their arsenal. Our system is so biased toward sheer athleticism, that such smaller players are never given the chance. What good is such wonderful skill if your strategy is to bang the ball to the corners and turn it into a track meet?

  4. Rick Figueiredo, August 18, 2011 at 11:48 a.m.

    Good article. Futebol Intelligence is something one day the USA will fully understand. Jurgen Klinsmann surely does so and his selction of players will be interesting. For Brasilians there are 2 key ages. 10 and 20. At ten they are ready to develop tactical thoughts. At 20 they reach their top physical capabilities.

  5. Luis Arreola, August 18, 2011 at 11:52 a.m.

    Everybody here is correct. My son is a 5'9" 12 year old but is very technical with the ball. He is constantly recruited for his size and speed but is a constant surprise to everyone when he actually plays. That is because he is not expcted to be that good with the ball. Initially he is just expected to be athletic and big and knock kids around. The only way this will change is by letting the clubs have the rights to young players. Clubs only listen to money. If the "Academy" clubs know they can profit directly from a player sold to another team they will focus more on skill and the skilled players. Otherwise, they are not really "Academies". They are just simply bigger clubs with more money that only care about team/club ranks.

  6. Daniel Pelleck, August 18, 2011 at 11:52 a.m.

    The smaller clubs can focus on player development. My U10 team had 20 girls try out for 14 spots, we could not choose big over small or fast over slow, we had to pick the girls with the best current technique combined with the potential for further development. We will develop these kids, they will have fun, develop a love and passion for the game, and then some of the parents will pull their kids for bigger clubs 45-60 minutes away and usually ruin the sport for their kids. Very few parents see the big picture, if the game is a chore or burden, how long do you think your kid will really keep playing. My U13 team has lost a third of its roster to "better" clubs over the last 4 years, but we continue to have the same high quality team because no player ever gets discarded and if our coaches do not focus on the development of every player, the team suffers. I just see it as the old tortoise versus hare scenario, and as I recall the tortoise won.

  7. Luis Arreola, August 18, 2011 at 11:59 a.m.

    Daniel, you have the right mentality as I too am in the same boat as you. The truth is though, that had the first set of players stayed with you they would probably be better players themselves and maybe 1-2 thinking about going pro. But what happened was those that left didn't really improve at the rate they we're with you and the one that stayed developed at a faster rate. So they all even out instead of having the better ones have a real shot at greatness. Like you I also make the best of it but I can't help but think what if.

  8. Lyidmila Mordasova, August 18, 2011 at 4:08 p.m.

    Good article and good comments. My son is a 5’6” 17 years old with great technical and tactical skills, but because of his size, physicality (he is not a big boy); he is not given much chance. Coaches compliment his skills, personality, workability, commitment, love, passion, and hunger for the game, but don’t give much playing time, because they are mostly care about results and team/club ranks. It is very stressful environment in youth soccer, too much politics.
    Mike Burns is right saying that "… Some guys develop earlier and others develop later. Some guys that might not be as advanced at 17 might become a fantastic player by the time they're 25. You never know.” But how and where these small skillful players can show their skills and talent?

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