By Kevin Koczwara
New England Revolution fans haven’t had much to cheer about for the last two seasons. Last year the Revs had to watch the MLS Cup from afar for the first time in eight years. Top on the fact that it scored the least amount of goals in a season in club history and its all-time leading goalscorer Taylor Twellman announced his retirement. Things didn’t look much brighter going into 2011 either.
The team struggled to make off-season acquisitions of any real notoriety. There was more news from the preseason about arrests than positive play or developments on the field. If there was an expected turnaround from last year, it didn’t happen.
The Rev’s 3-2 loss to Chivas USA on Saturday showcased the team’s weaknesses: lack of depth, inability to finish chances, no true left back and an inability to hold a lead. But a positive emerged from the loss, which is something that hasn’t happened many times this season, the next generation of players showcased their talents and made an impact on the field. The future belongs to 16-year-old Diego Fagundez and the team’s first Designated Player Milton Caraglio.
Caraglio signed with the Revolution on Wednesday from Argentinian side Rosario Central as the Revs first DP. The 22-year-old forward hasn’t played in over a year and trained with the team for two days prior to Saturday’s game. It may not have been in manager Steve Nicol’s plan to start the forward, but with Rajko Lekic unavailable and no other true hold-up striker on the roster, Nicol made the decision to go with his newest signing. The rust and lack of fitness showed in Caraglio’s game, but his skill on the ball and ability to actually hold up play were also showcased when he was able to get on the end of a pass.
“The one thing with Milton [Caraglio] is he’s not fit-enough yet. He’s been on his off-season. He’s been doing some training on his own, but there’s a world of difference between training everyday with a team and doing your own stuff,” said Nicol after the loss.
“So, once we can get him up to speed – hopefully that will be sooner, rather than later – then you’ll see a lot more from him. He can hold the ball up and bring people in. He’s shown that he can score goals, as well. So that’s the combination we’re looking for from him.”
One thing the Revolution need right now is a proven goalscorer. If Caraglio is that missing piece then the money spent on his transfer from Rosario Central will be well worth it. The Revolution have consistently struggled to score, especially at home, this season. The Revolution have scored a measly 10 goals at home in 11 games. Five of those goals came in two games, a 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City on Sat. April 23 , the last time the Revolution won a home game, and two against Chivas Saturday.
Caraglio is still trying to integrate himself with the team and the new culture. The forward doesn’t speak English and has only spent two days training, so it’s huge transition that could take a few weeks. For his first game in a Major League Soccer, he was able to hold up play a few times and make a few good touches on the ball, which when presented with the physical play of MLS means a lot for a player still unfit.
“This is a very difficult league [to play in] and it’s been a year since I last played a match. The truth is that I felt pretty well with my teammates and well, (we have to) work hard for the next match so we can get a victory,” said Caraglio after the game.
Caraglio played 62 minutes and took two shots (one on net and one wide left). He was eventually replaced by Kenny Mansally. Minutes later Caraglio’s strike partner in Nicol’s 4-4-2, Zack Schilawski, made way for Fagundez, the Revolution’s first homegrown player. And in a matter of minutes, the Revolution took off one of its latest beacons of hope while introducing another. The latter didn’t disappoint the home crowd, which included his family in the box-seats.
Fagundez, who will enter his sophomore year in high school in the fall, wasted no time to make an impact on the game. The 16-year-old got the ball at his feet in the 69th minute and attacked the Chivas defense, drawing a penalty call from referee Mark Kadlecik to the dismay of Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy — who earned a yellow card for arguing the call.
It seemed destined. The play had to happen. When Fagundez received the pass from Benny Feilhaber he knew he was going to try and take on the defenders. The crowd knew he was going to do it. His teammates knew he was going to do. Chives knew and all the defense could do was foul him. “Benny [Feilhaber] slotted the ball to me and I faked the pass into the middle and just took [the defender] on. The guy just caught me from behind and I just went down,” said Fagundez afterward.
Revolution captain Shalrie Joseph stepped up and smashed the ensuing penalty in the net bringing the Revolution within a goal of tying Chivas, 2-1. But it was Fagundez who made the impression on the game, giving the Revolution attack a spark it lacked for much of the game.
The moment quickly faded for the Revolution and Fagundez as Chivas came back in the 76th minute and added a third goal, Alejandro Moren’s second of the game. The goal put the game out of the reach for the Revolution and proved to be the game winner, but hope still beamed in the waining minutes of the game as Fagundez continued to work magic in and around the box. The Revolution weren’t giving up, and neither was the 16-year-old from Leominster, Mass.
In the 86th minute Kevin Alston launched a hopeful ball towards Fagunez at the edge of the penalty area, which was really hopeful as Fagundez, who is listed at a stretched 5’8” (and I really do mean stretched here, he is much shorter) and 125 lbs. But the little man confused the Chivas defense and somehow managed to bring the ball down in the box and slot home the finish with veteran poise, really putting an imprint onto the game.
Just like that the kid from Leominster made his name known to more than just the fanatical fans in the Fort. He made his name known by the wider audience of Revolution fans, those impressionable teenagers and their parents included.
“We were hoping to get a spark [from Diego Fagundez]. We had thoughts about playing him at some stage tonight anyway because he’s been doing great in training. He just likes to play, you can see his enthusiasm. It looks like he’s got a footballer’s brain. So it was a no-brainer to get him on. He did a fantastic job – he gets the penalty, he gets the goal: what more can you ask for?”
Fagundez gave the Revolution a boost when he came on. He added that bit of excitement the team was missing going forward. Fagundez’s skill on the ball combined with the pace, hard work and unpredictability of Kenny Mansally (came on for Caraglio in the 62’), opened new chances for the Revolution as it pressed forward. Fagundez’s impact wasn’t lost on Chivas midfielder and MLS All-Star Nick LaBrocca.
“[Diego Fagundez is] a clever player. He created some good opportunities, so something that we’ll have to go back and look at,” said LaBrocca. “He’s crafty. He’s a crafty guy that gave us a little bit of problem.”
Fagundez and Caraglio represent a new hope for the Revolution. Both players have been signed and been brought into the team — Fagundez will train full-time and play with the team while on summer vacation from high school — to create chances, to score goals and to begin the next wave of players coming into a side looking for a new identity.
With an outside chance at a playoff spot, the Revolution need a boost. If Caraglio can live up to the hype and his price-tag and Fagundez can keep providing the kind of spark the Revolution have lacked then what once seemed a dismal season looks like it could become a season of hope rather than a second consecutive season of dismay.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.