Here to Nguyen: Lee Nguyen’s 2014 Season and What’s to Come

An exclusive look at Lee Nguyen’s tremendous 2014 season and looking ahead to 2015
by Austin Farrow   |   Wednesday, January 14, 2015

US Soccer Federation (USSF)

It was June 2nd, 2007. The United States National Team faced off against China on a sunny day in San Jose, California. The U.S. were winning 4-1 as Rob Stone and Eric Wynalda talked, on the ESPN broadcast, about the young talent emerging in U.S. Soccer. One of those young talents was Lee Nguyen, a twenty year old plying his trade with Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven at the time.

Lee Nguyen formally introduced himself to American soccer that day entering the game with 10 minutes remaining. Roughly eight years later, Nguyen has helped return glory to the New England Revolution franchise.

Twenty goals, four assists, in the MLS Best XI, a league MVP finalist, and an Eastern conference champion in 2014, Lee Nguyen has announced something to the American soccer community. He’s ready to win.

Major League Struggle

With all great winners, there’s a backstory and a path. Nguyen’s path was a unique one. Nguyen started his professional career with PSV Eindhoven in Holland’s Eridivisie. He only appeared in league play once but cherished his time as a young player there greatly. “My best moments were just going into training every day and just learning something new from the guys,” Lee tells SoccerNewsDay. Nguyen recalls his debut for PSV, saying, “I was warming up on the sideline (and) the entire stadium was cheering my name. It gave me chills.”

With the learning experience and pedigree gained from PSV, Nguyen decided to move on to Randers in Denmark, and then eventually to his parent’s homeland, Vietnam. After playing for both Hoàng Anh Gia Lai and Becamex Binh Duong in Vietnam, he decided it was time to return to the United States to play in Major League Soccer, for the sake of his United States national team career.

“I felt like that was the (place) where I could play my best soccer, otherwise there was going to be no other second chance,” Nguyen reflected on signing with MLS. As we previously mention, it was important for Nguyen to return to the U.S. for his national team chances, which is exactly what he told us. “It took me time to adjust to the league obviously but I wanted to prove myself and try to get back on the national team,” said Nguyen.

For most athletes, being waived by your team would be a bad thing. It probably turned out to be the best thing for Lee. The Vancouver Whitecaps initially picked up Nguyen via a weighted lottery process but he was waived in preseason. The “unique path” rears it’s head once again before Jay Heaps & New England came calling for the midfielder in 2012. Fast-forward nearly three years and Lee Nguyen says, “It’s a blessing to play under Jay (Heaps) and the Revs.”

After finally settling with the Revs in 2012, Lee Nguyen displayed the kind of player he is to the viewing MLS eyes. The late, great, French ideologist Charles de Gaulle once said, “You have to be fast on your feet and adaptive or else a strategy is useless.” Gaulle said this in an abstract sense but we’ll use it in a concrete sense. Lee Nguyen has incredibly quick feet. Lee Nguyen is adaptive in his movement, his dribbling, and his thought process on the field. Lee Nguyen has a strategy, to use those quick feet and that adaptive mindset to make defenders tremble at the very sight of him. The vision, ingenuity, and weight of his passes are of a high class in MLS, not to mention his inner striking prowess which gained him 18 goals in the 2014 season, the most of any midfielder in the league and fourth highest league-wide.

The former description of Nguyen’s abilities make him a quality trequartista or as Nguyen refers to it as a “number 10”.  “I played outside mid and then coming into my second year I was playing more of an 8. Then this year I was playing more of my true position, which is the 10,” Nguyen explained about his time with the Revs.

“He has definitely helped elevate my game to the level it is now. I owe one to him. I think he’s helped me play (as) more of a two-way midfielder,” Nguyen said of Jay Heaps.

With that being said, Lee Nguyen obviously cites Jay Heaps as a huge reason for his success with New England. Heaps started playing professionally in 1999 with the Miami Fusion. After two seasons in Miami, Heaps was traded to the New England Revolution who he’d play for until 2009 when he decided to retire. In late 2011, he became manager of the Revs. The Revolution experienced a rough 2012, missing out on the playoffs and finishing second from last in the Eastern Conference. Lee Nguyen collected five goals and two assists that season. The next season however saw the birth of a team that was ready to make big strides under Jay Heaps. Heaps led the Revs to a third place finish in the East while Nguyen upped the ante to four goals and seven assists that season. Heading into 2014, Jay Heaps kept together a core that had been around since 2013 and in some cases 2012 and previous. 2013 Revs including the likes of Lee Nguyen, AJ Soares, Jose Goncalves, Chris Tierney, Andrew Farrell, Bobby Shuttleworth, and Kelyn Rowe would go on to have colossal 2014 seasons having gained vital chemistry in the previous season.

New England Revolution, Literally

“This really is the closest locker room ive been a part of,” Nguyen emphatically states regarding the 2014 Revs. New England used that chemistry to their advantage as they finished second in the Eastern Conference in 2014. Having made the playoffs, New England was ready to capitalize where they couldn’t in the 2013 playoffs. The Revolution slaughtered the Columbus Crew 4-2 in Columbus in their opening game. Nguyen scored in the 70th minute of that game, putting it out of reach for the Crew. The Revs then finished the series with a 3-1 win in Foxborough while Nguyen scored once again. Despite the ambition and desire to win MLS Cup for New England fans and the organization, that goal would eventually be crushed by the likes of Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, and the LA Galaxy. However, New England disposed of New York in the Eastern Conference finals dismantling Thierry Henry’s hopes of ever winning MLS Cup and New England fans had an Eastern Championship to gloat about.

“We had a goal at the beginning of the year to go further than we did. We missed out on (MLS Cup) last year. This year we felt like we could do it. Being able to reach that goal and being able to win it all was the ultimate high but at the same time it was a bittersweet moment,” Nguyen explained.

Lee Nguyen and the Revolution were as close as it comes to winning it all but did not, losing out to LA 2-1 in overtime. The Revs were understandably distraught. “Obviously we were all disappointed and it was tough. Calls could have gone either way. The result could have gone either way but that’s the game of football. You got to roll with the punches. We knew what we did all season long. You have to look at the positives,” Lee calmly composed.

Nguyen and the Revs certainly are aware of their accomplishments in 2014. One of Nguyen’s many accomplishments was having one of his eighteen 2014 season goals up for Goal of the Year. Nguyen walked through his Goal of the Year candidate for us personally. “Jermaine (Jones) got the ball at midfield and I was just trying to re-check my run to give him another option. At the same time (i’d) try to give him space on the ball because we know that he can create on the dribble. Kevin (Alston) was (also) making a darting run down the line. As (Jones) took a touch wide, he was able to play a ball to Kevin into space and that’s when I got into the box and checked my run for him. He (found) me at the top of the box and (he) played a great ball. I went to take a touch, fake a shot, played it inside him and put it top corner,” Nguyen detailed.

It was indeed a well worked goal and fantastic example of what Lee Nguyen was capable of this past season. However, a huge aspect of that goal, Nguyen’s 2014 season, and the Revolution’s 2014 season was in fact the midseason addition of Jermaine Jones. Jones’ near 50 caps for the U.S. National Team, his decade or so experience of playing in Europe, and his ruthless on-field mindset was always going to be vital for the Revolution but there was simply a great need for a player of that value and skillset within the Revolution team.

“I think he was exactly what this team needed, at the right time too. We had our style of play. The personality of this team was already there and basically all we really needed was that enforcer. (He’s that guy) who will break up plays but at the same time can start an attack,” Nguyen explains.    

As we stated, Jones wasn’t just of personal help to the Revs’ organization but to Nguyen and the rest of the Revolution cast as well. “He definitely gave me a whole lot of freedom. I was able to express myself more in the attacking third and I obviously love having him on the squad. Not only did he come in and help me out but he’s lifted everybody’s game. He was also a leader on the pitch and he was another voice out there,” pointed out Nguyen.

Nguyenning

With the likes of Jones around, as well most of the side’s core intact for 2015, it’s setting up to be another strong season for the New England Revolution and Lee Nguyen. So far this offseason, in terms of key losses, New England has lost Patrick Mullins to New York City FC. That’s all officially but rumors abound that, now out-of-contract, AJ Soares is set to sign a contract in Europe, specifically Italy. That’s a potential significant loss given his outstanding 2014 season but the point still stands that 2015 is shaping up to be another solid year for the New England Revolution.

Nguyen tells SND that winning MLS Cup is of a high priority to him specifically and to the Revolution obviously as well. Take into account that the Revolution organization didn’t just lose the 2014 MLS Cup. It’s the fifth MLS Cup the club has lost and they’ve been to MLS Cup five times. The ever-growing and competitive league that is MLS won’t make it easy to win that eventual MLS Cup but it’s a landscape that Lee Nguyen is ready to endure. 

“Teams get better every year. The (squads) get deeper. Now you got two more teams coming into the league this year. It’s going to bring more competition. I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to be back on the pitch with the guys again and start pushing for the MLS cup,” Nguyen illustrates.

 “MLS is definitely on the right track. You can see it’s growing so fast, (more so) than any other league ive seen. All of the players you ask around world now, they all want to come to MLS. You can see that it’s not only a great league but it’s a popular league and it’s only going to keep growing. Im grateful,” the 28 year old midfielder states.

Lee Nguyen is grateful to be a part of MLS. Because of his time in MLS, he’s accomplished his dream of returning to the U.S. National Team. MLS has raised it’s standards to accommodate a player of Nguyen’s ability. New England supporters and MLS neutrals should stay at ease knowing Nguyen tells us that leaving MLS is not a priority. Nguyen is prepared and excited to head into preseason camp with the Revolution. “I want to be in this league and I want to help it grow. At the moment, I plan on going into camp with the team,” says Nguyen.

As Nguyen told us, a big reason why he came to MLS was his desire to return to the National Team setting. That he did on November 14th of 2014 after being called up by Jurgen Klinsmann. Against Colombia, Lee Nguyen entered the match in the 78th minute, his twelve minute cameo being his only cap of 2014. Nguyen continued to replicate the sort of creativity that made him a part of MLS’ Best XI in 2014 in the game against Colombia. After being on the field for only about two minutes, Nguyen produced a mesmerizing flick from a Damarcus Beasley pass that nearly led to a goal. The flick literally rendered ESPN color commentator, Taylor Twellman, speechless. As Twellman went on to analyze the play during the broadcast replay he was so worked up about the play that he couldn’t emphasize what he even wanted to say, saying, “this is the spot that Lee Nguyen has made defenders eat their lunch in MLS.” Yes, it was that good.

Nguyen was understandably honored by the call-up and hopes it’s the beginning of something great in 2015. “It was a dream and a huge accomplishment just to get that call. I wanted to show him that im still hungry. If I get another chance I think I can prove that,” Nguyen stated. When asked whether he could see himself playing a big role for the United States in 2015, he said “that’s always the hope. Obviously I (have) to keep doing well with my club. If you do all the right things, a national team call just follows.”

Sure enough, on January 9th of 2015 Lee Nguyen was called into January camp for the U.S. National Team. The team will train in Carson, California in preparation for it’s friendly against Chile on the 28th of January.

A call-up followed for him in 2014. It’s hard to imagine that wouldn’t continue in 2015. He was nicknamed “MVLee” and was called “the best number 10” in American soccer in 2014 by multiple people for a reason. If 2007 was the year Lee Nguyen said hello to American soccer, 2015 is the year he says, im here to Nguyen.

Austin FARROW

Nationality:
USA
College:
Indian River State
Club Domestic:
All MLS clubs
Club Foreign:
Manchester City
Bringing you news on soccer players across MLS and American players playing in top leagues around the world, Austin is a journalism major who enjoys the fine arts. He doesn't favor one club over another, but just enjoys all MLS play.
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