The ones that got away: Is Diego Fagundez next to elude the USA?

Vedad Ibisevic, Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic all slipped away from the U.S. national team. Will Diego Fagundez be next?

Fagundez has not yet committed to either the U.S. or his native Uruguay, partly because it is not his choice to make. But after playing for Uruguay’s Under-20 national team in two friendlies in Peru last week, his future is looking more Celeste than star-spangled.

Time is working against Fagundez playing for the U.S., since he can’t attain citizenship until 2018. While he is waiting, Uruguay will be playing host to the U-20 South American Championship Jan. 14-Feb. 7. Then, there is the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand and the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. An appearance in any of those tournaments would tie Fagundez to Uruguay.

So, economics could also be working in favor of Fagundez going for Uruguay. The upcoming U-20 events are essentially talent showcases, serving as potential springboards to European riches. No agent would advise passing them up. But unless and until Uruguay coach Fabian Coito gives Fagundez another invite, there is no choice to be made.

The U.S. national team program has already lost Fagundez once – he was involved with the U-14 and U-15 teams from 2007-10 before someone discovered he was born in Montevideo. And the U.S. has been hoping to get him back ever since, according to U.S. assistant coach Tab Ramos.

“I’ve been watching him since he was 11 or 12 years old, and it’s hard to believe it would take so long for him to become a citizen,” Ramos said. “He’s been so long in this country. He grew up here. It’s a little disappointing.”

Fagundez, 19, has been living in the central Massachusetts town of Leominster since he was 5 years old and seems about as American as an athlete can be – even playing for the franchise with the most patriotic of names, the New England Revolution, his hometown team.

None of the other ones that got away were in quite the same situation as Fagundez – he played in the U.S. national team junior program, never wanted to leave it, and has always wanted to return to the program; plus, he is competing in MLS and, by most socio-cultural definitions, has been completely Americanized.

Ibisevic had residency status similar to Fagundez and, technically, did not get away, since he was never part of the U.S. program. Current Philadelphia Union assistant coach Mike Sorber was charged with recruiting Ibisevic for the U.S. and had an inside track, since he was coaching at St. Louis University while Ibisevic was playing there. But Sorber faced a difficult task since Ibisevic was being offered a contract by Paris Saint-Germain’s Bosnian coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, who was also directing him toward Bosnia’s national team. Ibisevic’s timing was bad for citizenship fast-tracking, because of changes related to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorism incidents. So, rather than wait out the citizenship process, Ibisevic accepted a callup to Bosnia-Herzegovina’s junior team and in 2007 made his national team debut.

The U.S. also recruited Rossi and Subotic. Rossi had his sights set on playing for Italy, beginning his professional career in Europe as a 12-year-old and getting his callup to Italy’s U-16 team in 2003, joining the full national team in 2008. Subotic played for the U.S U-17 and U-20 teams but switched allegiances after being left off the U-20 team in 2007.

Fagundez, meanwhile, has never turned down the U.S. and doesn’t plan to.

“The door is still open and I will never close it,” Fagundez said. “So if something happens with the U.S. and I can get everything going – you never know how things will happen and if people can help you with citizenship.”