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Too early to tell if Diego Fagundez is a suitable Lee Nguyen replacement

Apr 14, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Revolution forward Teal Bunbury (10) warms up prior to a game against Dallas FC at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

New England Revolution head coach Brad Friedel believes the media should be focusing more of its attention on the team’s leading scorer, Diego Fagundez, and not on Lee Nguyen, who has yet to even appear on the bench this season despite making more than $500,000 in guaranteed compensation, according to the MLS Players Union.

Fagundez has recorded three goals through the first six games of 2018 and is succeeding in the No. 10 role, interchanging particularly well with Cristian Penilla.

Conversely, Nguyen continues to be on the outside looking in after being denied multiple trade requests by the Revolution front office and skipping the first three weeks of preseason training.

Publicly, Friedel has said he has nothing against Nguyen and isn’t punishing the player by keeping him out of the match 18. Nguyen has said he and his coach are on fine terms.

WATCH: Revolution supporters sound off on Lee Nguyen

Friedel indicated after last Saturday’s 1-0 home loss to FC Dallas, and again at training this week, that Fagundez is ahead of Nguyen in the pecking order.

“You guys are focused on one individual and I’m not really sure why,” Friedel told reporters in Foxborough on Tuesday. “There are a lot of players out here who are working incredibly hard and doing incredibly well. I expect them to turn up and be professional every single day, which by and large, every single player does. It hasn’t been the case with every player, but almost every player.”

“Diego Fagundez, who is the best No. 10 at the club right now, he came in, works really hard every single day, he deserves your stories,” Friedel added. “Right there, Diego Fagundez, not focusing on someone else. Diego Fagundez, I’m going to say it again, is the one who deserves your stories, not someone else.”

While Fagundez’s form is particularly strong, Nguyen’s role on the team continues to be the elephant in the room.

Fagundez may be one of New England’s most talented players, but he’s also one of its streakiest. The 23-year-old has accrued 44 regular season goals since entering Major League Soccer as a teen in 2011.

But taking a bird’s-eye view of Fagundez’s career stats isn’t enough. After all, he made just six appearances – three of which were off the bench – in his rookie season and didn’t even begin starting games consistently until September of his second year.

Fagundez had a breakout year in 2013 when he scored 13 goals and notched five assists. He never scored more than six goals in one season from 2014-2016, failing to record a postseason appearance during the Revolution’s 2014 MLS Cup run.

In 2017, Fagundez broke his personal record for assists – nabbing nine to go with seven goals – in spurts. He didn’t have an assist from July 30 to October 22 and didn’t score from June 18 until October 15.

The 2016 season offered similar droughts for Fagundez: he went 18 games without scoring a goal and 26 between assists. Ditto goes for 2015 — he recorded two assists all season and didn’t score his first goal until June 1. He scored again on June 14, but then went goalless until starting a four-game scoring streak on August 30.

While this has been the best start to a season in Fagundez’s career, it’s still too early to decipher whether he will maintain his form or regress. His record since 2014 has consistently shown that he’s inconsistent, even if he’s continued to develop and flourish under Friedel’s use of the high press.

For the purposes of 2018, Fagundez is performing well enough that keeping Nguyen out of the starting lineup hasn’t been detrimental to results — so far. But considering Nguyen is one of the top chance creators in MLS, fans and media following the team struggle to comprehend why Friedel is unwilling to use him in the match 18 while simultaneously rejecting reported offers for the player.

In short, scrutiny of the decision is increasing and the Revolution are being pressed to explain Nguyen’s status with the team – regarding both his lack of playing time and presence on the roster. And the status quo could become even more unsustainable should the team’s attack, particularly Fagundez, start to falter.

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