New deal for Fagundez adds luster to record of Homegrown players

By Ridge Mahoney

MLS and New England took a significant step a few days ago when attacker Diego Fagundez signed a new contract.

Fagundez, 20, is the first Homegrown player signed by the Revs, and inked his deal in 2010, when he was 15. He signed an extension in 2013 and had two years left on his contract, and is presumably being rewarded for signing another extension with more money.

His previous deal was worth $152,200 in total compensation, which puts him in the upper half of the Revs’ salary list and fifth among Homegrown players currently on MLS rosters. From the 2015 figures, here are the top 10 Homegrown earners:

1. Bill Hamid (D.C. United) $405,500.
2. Gyasi Zardes
(LA Galaxy) $223,000.
3. Russell Teibert
(Vancouver) $167,500.
4. Wil Trapp
(Columbus) $164,500.
5. Diego Fagundez
(New England) $152,200.
6. Tommy Thompson
(San Jose) $145,000.
7. Tyler Deric (Houston) $112,667.
8. Harry Shipp (Chicago) $112,500.
9. Ashtone Morgan
(Toronto FC) $112,000.
10. Sean Davis
(NY Red Bulls) $97,500.

(Red Bulls defender Matt Miazga is further down the list at $74,500. Like Fagundez, he is 20, and he signed a contract in 2013 that expires at the end of 2016. Miazga has reportedly turned down offers of an increased salary.)

No team has been as successful with Homegrown signings breaking into the first team as FC Dallas, which late in the regular season and during the playoffs fielded midfielders Kellyn Acosta ($84,000) and Victor Ulloa ($60,000) and keeper Jesse Gonzalez ($69,375).

When MLS in December announced a larger money pool and additional options for teams to use Targeted Allocation Money, it also increased the amount available for Homegrown players by $125,000 per team. Most Homegrown players do not count against the salary cap and if a Homegrown player is transferred while under contract, the team receives three-quarters of the transfer fee. In other cases of a transfer, the team gets at most two-thirds of the fee.

Fagundez, who has represented Uruguay at the U-20 level, has been linked to Italian teams that past two offseasons. He has scored 28 goals and registered 18 assists in 118 regular-season games, but is laboring under the label of a one-season wonder: He hit 13 of his goals and logged seven assists in the 2013 season after signing that first contract extension.

Still, New England and MLS have rightly trumpeted his accomplishments. Fagundez is the youngest player to score 25 goals and make 100 appearances in league play; he reached both milestones last season. He turns 21 in February.

Typical of young players, Fagundez’s progress has been spectacular and streaky, and he hasn’t always found a regular starting place in a rich corps of Revs’ attackers. Yet he’s also an incredibly talented and exciting player developed domestically and not imported.

Renowned as among the league’s most frugal teams, New England last year paid only one player -- midfielder Jermaine Jones ($3,052,000) – more than $500,000, and will have a tough decision to make if a decent offer comes in for Fagundez. But that is how the process of finding and grooming players is supposed to work and most MLS teams are still feeling their way through the myriad nuances of academy teams and player development.

Defining what is success depends on what criteria is used. In three years, Gyasi Zardes has jumped from Galaxy prospect and college player to regular starter for club and country. He’ll be camp with the U.S. team this month, as will Wil Trapp. But any player who moves up the ladder into a regular role for his club is a tremendous success and if a player doesn’t quite make it fairly quickly, he isn’t necessarily a bust.

One of Trapp’s former Crew SC teammates, midfielder Ben Speas, signed a Homegrown deal four years ago and is out of contract after playing 41 games in four seasons. At 24, he’s at a crossroads in his career. Other stories are more uplifting.

D.C. United turned down several offers for Andy Najar before selling him, at age 19, to Anderlecht for nearly $3 million three years ago. He was the first MLS Homegrown player to join a European club on a transfer; such deals generate lots of publicity for the league, but they are the exceptions to what is a low-percentage game. United signed Najar as a 15-year-old local kid; now he's a Honduran international playing in Europe. That's a big-time hit. 

Since MLS officially formulated its Homegrown program in 2008, more than 150 players have been signed. Frankly, more than a few players drew more far more publicity than their subsequent performances warranted, and some teams seemed to view the process as a marketing ploy, but the development of elite players into established pros is a risky roll of the dice in many aspects.

MLS teams are required to run academy squads at the U-14, U-16, and U-18 levels and can sign as many Homegrown players as they want. Fagundez, who was born in Montevideo and moved to Massachusetts with his family as a child, excelled in the team’s academy and three months shy of his 16th birthday agreed to turn professional.

During a press conference prior to MLS Cup last month, league commissioner Don Garber confirmed that league teams annually spend about $40 million on player development. For 2016, the additions of Bethlehem Steel (Philadelphia) and Swope Park Rangers (Sporting Kansas City) will increase to 11 the number of MLS teams running their own USL operations, so the money spent is destined to increase as well.

The value of the MLS Homegrown program outstrips the monies involved. Players such as Bill Hamid, Zardes, Najar, Fagundez and others -- perhaps Jordan Morris if he signs with Seattle –- serve dual purposes of publicity and production. They are domestic complements to Designated Players, most of whom come from foreign countries, and bring the league a much different yet vital aspect of credibility.

MLS needs Homegrowns such as Fagundez just as it needs a signing of Sebastian Giovinco to grow toward its objective as a destination league.

2 comments about "New deal for Fagundez adds luster to record of Homegrown players".
  1. beautiful game, January 10, 2016 at 12:16 p.m.

    I'm not sold on Gyasi Zardes. He's got the basic goods, but when it comes to making things happen, in most cases he fails to deliver. We have hundreds of Zardes types, yet the bottom line is they don't deliver when it counts.

  2. Wooden Ships replied, January 10, 2016 at 5:52 p.m.

    Can't add anything to that I w. On occasion he will find the net or make a quality pass, but more is needed for a national team. Maybe he has the current era affliction, esteem/confidence issues. Get to Europe and earn time and toughness-mentally.

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