If you’re overwhelmed by the energy emanating from Q2 Stadium, you need only look to one player as the source of all that excitement. With his gritty attitude on the pitch, Diego Fagúndez has become a fan-favorite for green and black fans. Born in Uruguay and raised in Massachusetts, Fagúndez played for his hometown New England Revolution for 10 seasons before leaving under somewhat difficult conditions. Now the midfielder is embracing his inner Texan on an Austin team that appears to be heading for the playoffs in only its second year in MLS.
Have you had the opportunity to explore the city a lot?
I think I’ve been to most places outside of all the restaurants. Being on a boat is something I’ve always loved. I’ve done this a lot in Leominster so when I came here I decided to buy one. Now I’m on Town Lake and Lake Travis all the time. As for the restaurant, what is really nice here is its diversity. It’s not just good barbecue and Mexican. Whatever you feel is out there.
How was it to build the team from scratch?
It’s crazy to think of all of us who arrived last year because it was 30 new players, new staff, and we didn’t really know how it was going to be. But at the same time, we knew we could do something special. This season we only brought in a few new faces, and the structure was already there. So it was a lot easier to adapt and get these new players to adapt to the way we want to play. I really think this team can go far. It’s just a matter of sticking together.
You scored the team’s first goal last year. Where does this rank for you in terms of highlights?
I have jerseys commemorating my 50th and my first here. No one can ever take that away from me. I did Austin FC history, so it’s amazing. Especially coming from New England where I felt unwanted.
Did you feel like you were being pushed through the door there?
I did and I didn’t. I feel like they basically said I was a player that wasn’t going to grow anymore, and when I spoke to [head coach] Josh [Wolff] and [sporting director] Claudio [Reyna], they wanted and expected a lot more from me. They challenged me, and I wanted to come here and prove to everyone that I wasn’t done.
The first year for Austin FC was difficult. How did you find the motivation to keep striving to build a winner?
Well you must be thinking, It’s our job. I’m passionate about what I do and I hate losing. If you’re not passionate, then what are you doing? That’s the key: is it just a job or is it your dream?
You’ve been in MLS for a while now. Describe the football culture here compared to other cities.
I’ve said it many times, and I mean it: we have the best fan base. At least the first three. All the other teams that come here talk about how amazing our stadium and our fans are. We are trying to make Q2 a fortress, and the fans are always there for us.
Assuming Q2 is in the top three, what do you think are the loudest other stadiums?
LAFC and Sporting KC [Children’s Mercy Park]. It’s not a huge stadium, but you can feel the energy. And playing in LA is always tough. But I can’t even imagine what the opposition thinks when they enter Q2. Our fans are loud! They throw water and beer. They sing for 90 minutes. And what I love is that the fans follow us on the go. Traveling doesn’t come cheap, so when you see that, it’s special.
Did this level of enthusiasm surprise you?
Not really, because when I got there, that’s the only thing people were talking about. You’ve seen jerseys and scarves all over town. Then I started meeting people who told me they had been to all the initial talks about building the stadium. It was a lot of hard work that went into it!
Whether it’s handing out shirts or waving to supporters after scoring, you’ve been known to take the time to connect with the fans. Why is this important to you?
Because they helped me find my passion, maybe where I hadn’t found it elsewhere. They welcomed me with open arms. Is it difficult? Yeah, because they can have me too, which is good. That’s part of it. When I left New England it was my No. 1 choice, and now I’m just trying to give Austin my all.
What are the expectations for you and the club for the rest of the year?
I think we just have to take it game by game. We need to score more goals, but we also need to make sure we have fun and stick together. All in all, we all know we have to make the playoffs. This is what is most important.
Has your family’s move here alleviated some of that pressure?
For sure. I moved them here in August. My father represents green and black everywhere. He even traveled with Los Verdes [the independent fan group] to Houston so he could dance and sing on a recent road trip. They live the Texas life with me. And nothing beats Texas.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.