In 2010, the New England Revolution signed a professional contract with a 15-year-old kid from Leominster named Diego Santiago Fagúndez Pepe. He made his professional debut a year later, and scored his first MLS goal that season. He was 16 years old. On the heels of his 21st birthday and having just signed his third contract with the Revolution, we reached out to Diego and talked about his heroes, heartaches, and most importantly, his hair.
Dig: First things first, that was a great opening game against Houston. How did that feel and what was it like to be back on the field?
Diego: It felt great. The whole team had been waiting for it for a long time, and we were just feeling it … as much as the fans were, I’m sure … we’re up 1-0 in the first three minutes and it’s great, but then they go up … and then we tie it at the very end! It was just a crazy game to be part of and fighting with my teammates right until the end. We were making sure we left with a point, and we all fought for it.
It seems like you’ve been fighting for it since you could walk; in 2010, you were signed by the New England Revolution and then made your professional debut in 2011—at the age of 16. That’s an amazing accomplishment. Tell me about that experience and what it’s been like for you personally?
These last six years have been a really fun experience. A dream come true. I never thought that at the age of 21, I’d be signing my third contract and have this incredible opportunity, but there’s plenty more to come. I just have to keep doing my job and keep working hard at training, so I can help the team become better and do everything I can to be part of that.
You’re definitely a homegrown talent, but you were born in Uruguay and grew up playing soccer in Leominster. How has that connection inspired you over the course of your career, and how have you developed your game locally?
We’re a little country, only 3 million people, so it’s great to be from there and be able to represent the national team which I play for as well, but it’s also important for me to represent my dad, who played for Uruguay during his entire career, and I want to follow in his footsteps and become the best professional player I can be. Professional athletes can have a short or long career—you never know, so you just need to stay healthy and perform, and if you’re lucky and you do your job, little by little, you’ll continue to grow as a player. That’s what inspires me.
Tell us about your hair? You seem to be taking it to a higher level at every game!
Ha! The hair is who I am. It’s the one thing I’ve been doing since I was 7 years old, and I won’t change that until I lose all of my hair. I want people to know that this is my personality but I love inspiring people to do something new as well. I’ll go online and Google “crazy hair styles” and see what other people are doing as well.
You’ve been surrounded by a lot of family, players and especially coaches throughout your career. Tell us about the people who have influenced you the most?
There are a lot of great people who have supported and inspired me, but one of the coaches that I had with my club team, Dan Colwell [Boston University, assistant coach; FC Bolts Soccer Club, director of boys soccer], was one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. We’re like family, and now brothers, and we still talk all the time about soccer. But of course my family was a huge inspiration. I couldn’t have done this without all of their support, whether it’s driving me 10 hours to Virginia or Maryland for a tournament or just to practices. My parents and family have given so much … but obviously it’s also about my teammates, because without them, you’re not going anywhere in the end.
Happy belated birthday, and congratulations on turning 21! Does this mean you’ll give Gronk a run for his money and start showing up shirtless at nightclubs around Boston? If not, what’s your go-to stress release during the off season?
No, no. Of course not! Twenty-one is just another number to me. I’d rather have fun with my family and friends at home, off-roading or fishing and hanging on the boat. I’m more of an outdoors guy. You’ll be walking in the woods and that’s where you’ll find me! But yeah, I like to fish, I like to offroad in my Jeep, I like to hunt… I like to do a lot of things that get me away from soccer that are outdoors.
Tell us a little bit about your evolution as a player. Is it safe to say that your preference is being up front?
For me, wherever the coach puts me, that’s where I’m happiest—as long as I’m on the field and I’m able to help out the team. I’ll have a smile on my face whenever I can do something positive for the team. That said, it’s the #10 role that I’ve always played my entire life, and even though I’m always learning and I’ve had to adapt to playing left wing and making sure that I’m running forward and defending, my mindset is always to move forward and attack.
How does it feel to have your own bobblehead?
It’s pretty awesome! Who’d have thought at my age I’d have my own bobblehead! You never expect that, but it confirms that I’m accomplishing my dream. I just can’t let that get to my head … you really need to be humble and just move forward.
So, did they get the hair right?
Ha—the hair was ok … but they could have done better … maybe they didn’t have a stylist!
Soccer has come a long way in the US, and you’re clearly part of the next generation of talented players coming up through the system. Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
First off, I’ve never lived by the future … only by the day … you never know in this sport, so you have to go out and have an impact on each game and work hard. For me, though, and my spot on the team and the starting 11, I’m just trying to do something positive. As far as the US team, you never know who’s going to make it during the World Cup, nevermind even win it all. There’s so much great talent out there, and any team could make it to the finals today, because if you don’t perform, there’s another team that will play harder than you and take that win away.
You can catch Diego all season long as the New England Revolution look to bring the Cup home in 2016! Dig Boston will be giving away tickets to every home game so sign up for Daily Dig and win!