MLS New England Revolution

Sweeney: Thoughts on Fagundez’s situation, plus a thought about the Academy program

A few stray thoughts from a wild few days in Revolution Colony:

It feels like Arena held the appearance record as a ransom, doesn’t it?

I think I explained it pretty succinctly late Wednesday night, but let’s run this down for you:

On Oct. 1, the Revolution made Diego Fagundez a contract offer. In some ways, it’s a fair offer; in other ways, it’s not. DF14 had taken hometown discount after hometown discount from former general manager Michael Burns — of course when the time is ripe, Fagundez wants to finally get paid, and when you are shuffled off from your natural position to a position you are unfamiliar with, you want to get paid for learning a new skill. Put yourself in DF’s shoes: your boss comes to you with new, different responsibilities at your job, what’s your reaction? You better pay me more money.

He countered with just that: more money. The Revs counter with the original offer and an ultimatum — take our offer, or that’s that. They send the counter to the counter on Oct. 20 and want it signed by Nov. 1. That’s not a business negotiation, that’s a hostage situation.

Nov. 1 just happened to be the day that Fagundez would have broken the club record for appearances. Reading between the lines here with what Fagundez told me Wednesday — and I take DF14 at his word — it’s interesting timing. Very interesting, at that.

So he rejects your contract, and you decide to not play him? That reeks of Bill Belichick holding Malcolm Butler out of the Super Bowl. That reeks of — and yes, I’m going in the way-back machine here — Charlie Comiskey keeping Eddie Cicotte from starting games in August and winning 30 games to avoid paying him a performance-based bonus. “Rest his arm for the Series,” my Irish ass; the World Series was in October. Shut him down just to heat him back up two months later? Hogwash.

It reeks of vindictiveness. Why not play him in the home finale against DC? Bruce Arena didn’t use all five subs in that game — he didn’t use all five subs until the Columbus game, by the way — and you hold Fagundez back to make the point that he’s not going to be here in 2021, so we’re not going to let you take a record of ours away from here? That’s crap by the club. To build the talk to DF tying and passing Matt Reis to tying Shalrie Joseph on both TV and in our pre-match notes, to not give him the opportunity to take a record he has earned is pretty classless in my book.

Side note: Next person in-line to tie Shalrie and Diego? That would be Andrew Farrell, who is 22 matches from setting up a three-way tie, and 23 matches from breaking the record. AF2 is at 239 appearances in the league.

On the other hand… why offer a contract at all when they did?

Let me play Devil’s Advocate for a second: The way things went these past two seasons saw Fagundez move from the spotlight of the starting XI to a more reserved role as a spot starter and super sub. Fine. That’s every coach’s prerogative to have his favorites and have certain players play certain roles. We have no issue with that.

But what if Fagundez wasn’t in Arena’s plans? If he wasn’t, fine. We saw that with Brad Friedel and Lee Nguyen at the start of 2018.

If that’s the case, why offer a contract at all? Why offer a reject-able contract if you weren’t going to play him should he decide to do just that? Why offer two years if you decided to shun him for not accepting your terms? Look at the numbers and think that if Farrell is going to break the record anyway, why not say, “Diego, you work hard, but you’re just not in my plans moving forward.” I have to think — and knowing Fagundez like I know Fagundez — he would have accepted that.

Of course, offering the contract was a courtesy given Fagundez’s accomplishments within the club — even though there’s one accomplishment the club didn’t let him fully attain. A better courtesy would have been to offer one year, or no contract at all until after the season, once he had that record locked up.

But who am I, really.

That’s four of seven Homegrowns gone

In 13 months, Arena has said good bye to four of the club’s first five Homegrown signings. In order, that would be Zachary Herivaux, Fagundez, and the pairing of Isaac Angking and Nicolas Firmino, whose contract options were not picked up on Tuesday.

Everyone knows my feelings on DF14, so we’ll skip him.

Herivaux… I’ll be honest and say I don’t really understand why he was signed in 2015. I just don’t. He’s just not MLS quality, and I don’t think he’s Championship quality, either. He’s played 34 matches in the Championship, including eight this season with San Antonio. They did not pick up his option after the season he had in the Lone Star State, and he’s looking for a club. He made 10 league appearances with the Revs, plus a couple of Open Cup appearances. He just wasn’t going to improve, that was clear, and Arena rightly cut ties.

Angking, I can understand declining his option. The Rhode Island native spent more time in the trainer’s room than on the pitch, between his early 2018 illness to his knee injury at the start of 2019 to the time he missed with Revs II this summer. He was mere potential, and yes, injuries do happen, but he inched ever closer to Gershon Koffie levels. I wish this polite young man luck wherever he goes.

But Firmino? This one’s the head-scratcher, right here. This is a young man who played 30 minutes against one of the best teams in if not London, in Europe, in May 2019 — and held his own. He’s a tall presence with solid box-to-box skills, and his right foot is just so dangerous. He will find a club, even if it’s in the Championship, and woe betide teams that think he’s just an MLS cast-off. I really, really hope that Firmino proves them all wrong.

All that being said, with Arena getting rid of Homegrowns left and right — he has kept Scott Caldwell, Justin Rennicks, and Damian Rivera, for now — does this now shed some brighter lights on the underperformance of the Revolution Academy? The point of the Academy: to ready your young soccer players for the pros… so why are there players not ready being signed to a pro contract?

And in that same vein, why has New England been so slow to properly develop professionals outside of Fagundez, Caldwell, and Rennicks — and I only include Rennicks in this because he gets into the right positions, his IQ is phenomenal — when other clubs are kicking tremendous ass at it? I understand the weather means less chances on the ball than a Dallas youngster, or a Los Angeles youngster, or even a Philadelphia youngster, but the Revs have indoor facilities. Or is it a case of the footballing talent here just not that good? I’m starting to think that’s incredibly true.

And if it’s not true, and we do have the talent, we have to ask: do the Revolution have the right people in place to train these young players to be solid professionals that can help New England win a trophy? If we do have talent here and it’s not being groomed and developed properly for MLS and for a title run, it may be time to go in another direction with the youth academy staffing.