Diego Fagundez's decision: Play with Uruguay Under-20s or wait for U.S.?
Diego Fagundez has long been hoping to return to the U.S. national team program, but citizenship issues have taken his international career south. Should the New England Revolution midfielder play for Uruguay in Under-20 World Cup qualifiers, he will be unable to switch to the U.S. in the future.
But Fagundez, who played for U.S. junior teams as a 13- and 14-year-old, is planning to make the most of his situation.
Fagundez, 19, is among 27 players on a provisional roster preparing for the South American Youth Football Championship on Jan. 14-Feb. 7 in Uruguay. If Fagundez gets into a game in this event or the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, he could become another prospect who got away from the U.S.
This is the latest -- and possibly final -- twist in Fagundez's international career. He last played for the U.S. U-14 team in 2008 and 2009, then was called into the U.S. U-15 training camp before U.S. Soccer learned he was not a citizen.
And that has kept Fagundez from returning to the U.S. team -- although he has lived in Leominster, Massachusetts, since age 5, Fagundez will not be eligible for citizenship until 2018. By then, if Fagundez has competed with Uruguay's national team at any level, he would be unable to make a one-time switch similar to the one that brought Aron Johannsson from the Iceland youth teams to the Yanks.
To make the switch, Fagundez would have to be a U.S. citizen when he played for Uruguay in a FIFA-sanctioned competitive match.
In other words, should Fagundez make an official appearance with Uruguay at any level before 2018, he will be unable to play for the U.S., according to FIFA rules.
But Fagundez said before departing for Uruguay last week he is leaving the door open to a U.S. inclusion.
"Right now it's kind of hard to say," Fagundez said of the U.S. national team program. "They haven't even approached me, and it looks like they're not interested in me. I can't keep waiting for them. I'll see where this takes me. That's why I'm going to Uruguay, I want to go there and represent the jersey and represent the country well."
U.S. U-20 coach Tab Ramos is holding out hope for a Fagundez return, though it seems a long shot. Ramos has been scouting Fagundez since 2006, when the attacking midfielder was 11 years old.
"We're hoping he can, somewhere down the road," Ramos said of Fagundez joining the U.S. "He would have been with my U-20s the last cycle [but] he's not a citizen and we can't speed up the process; we've tried, New England tried. Whether it would be down the road would be up to him.
"We're hoping down the road he thinks about us. He lives here and grew up here. He's the type of player we don't normally have here. It's just a matter of we have to wait."
The current group of Uruguayan U-20 players is expected to also be involved in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Fagundez is among three foreign-based players on the squad, which is expected to be finalized by Jan. 1. And Fagundez is certain to be afforded a fair shot at making the team, since he has close ties to coach Fabian Coito and assistant Gustavo Ferreyra through his father, Washington, a former goalkeeper for Central Espanol.
And though he has two years remaining on his contract with the Revolution, Fagundez says he realizes Uruguay could provide a launching pad to greater riches -- Uruguay attackers Felipe Avenatti, Gonzalo Bueno, Diego Laxalt and Diego Rolan all moved to European clubs after reaching the finals of the U-20 World Cup two years ago.
Many of the current squad's players are also expected to use the upcoming tournaments as springboards to Europe.
"I'm looking forward to this, it's something I've been waiting for for a while," Fagundez said. "Now that it's happening, it's great. I still have work to do. Making the team is not automatic. I have to fight for my spot before I'm chosen for the South American championship."