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MLS Spotlight: Nguyen has sights set on USMNT as he impresses in MLS for Revs

Lee Nguyen

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When Lee Nguyen made the decision to leave the Vietnamese league and join MLS prior to the 2012 season, he did so with one goal in mind: prove to everyone that he is capable of playing in the league.

With that now crossed off his to-do list, Nguyen has set his sights on accomplishing more this year. A lot more.

Currently in the midst of his second season with the New England Revolution, Nguyen is not interested in resting on his laurels from an impressive first year in MLS. In fact, he has some lofty goals he would like to accomplish in the coming months.

Near the top of his agenda? Earning a call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team, a realistic possibility considering that a Gold Cup will be played in July, and the desire of U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to summon players who are in season and in a “rhythm”.

“I haven’t been in touch with anyone from U.S. Soccer yet but it’s always a goal to try and get a call-up from the national team,” Nguyen told SBI. “Whether it’s in the Gold Cup or not, it would be great to get called up and I think I’m just starting (to get) in form and it would be a great tournament to showcase. But at the same time I just have to keep playing with New England and help them win games and hopefully just wait for a call-up and if I get a call-up, I’ll be ready.”

It has been a long time since Nguyen last donned a U.S. jersey (the 2007 Copa America, to be exact) and a lot has happened to him since his last international cap. The 26-year-old has literally played all over the world, moving from Dutch powerhouse PSV Eindhoven to Randers FC in Denmark to a pair of clubs in the relatively unknown V-League before signing with MLS.

Needless to say, few players can relate to the the wild road Nguyen has taken in his career but he believes the unpredictable nature of it all has helped him prosper as a player.

“I had a great time and I was very fortunate to play under some great coaches and learned a lot from a lot of great players as well,” said Nguyen. “I was fortunate enough to play under some top players who mentored me, like (Phillip) Cocu and (Jefferson) Farfan, and just being able to be in that environment and train with them every day and see them play, you learn so much from them on and off the field.

“I was able to take that experience and carry it on and that’s something I’m very grateful for and very fortunate to be part of because it molded me into the player I am now.”

The player Nguyen is now is a technical midfielder who possesses deceptive speed, good dribbling skills and an ability to create. In 2012, Nguyen had five goals and two assists in 30 games for a poor Revolution team and was largely considered one of the revelations of the MLS season.

Nguyen has continued to prove an offensive threat this year with a goal and an assist in 10 games but the Revolution’s attacking woes have persisted, as they have found the back of the net a measly six times.

That lack of offensive output, however, is not changing New England head coach Jay Heaps’ mind about what he wants to see from the crafty Nguyen.

“We’ve asked him to take a bigger role,” Heaps told SBI. “He’s someone who was good for us last year and he’s someone who we’re going to lean on because he can change the game at any moment. He’s good with the ball and make plays and I’m just trying to get the right combination of players around him.”

Heaps may be counting on Nguyen to be one of the focal points for the Revolution’s attack but that should be no problem for the midfielder. After all, Nguyen was essentially treated like a rock star during his playing days in Vietnam.

From being stopped in the streets for photos and autographs to being followed by the paparazzi, he lived a life in Vietnam that might compare to David Beckham or Justin Bieber’s in the United States. Nguyen was one of, if not, the highest-paid athletes in the country at the time and his face was plastered on everything from gossip magazines to newspapers to entertainment shows.

He was a celebrity.

“First it was overwhelming because I really had no idea of how big I was over there at the time and when I stepped down, my first game, it was just crazy and the (support) from the fans was amazing,” said Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent. “The whole country itself, they all were very supportive of me coming back there and playing, which was awesome to see how supportive everybody was. Whether they were soccer fans or not, they all knew who I was, which was like the most craziest thing, but I enjoyed it.”

As for the level of soccer played there, Nguyen believes it is not as bad as most would think.

“They’re pretty good and they could play in MLS as well,” said Nguyen. “It’s probably not as physical as MLS but technically they’re right up there with the rest of the world. It’s more of a South American style and you play on the thicker grass and the game might be a bit slower because of that but the game was flowing just like it was in Europe and maybe just because of that, in terms of players, it wasn’t that far off.

“It’s just different styles of play. I was in Holland and then Denmark transcended into a different style and then Vietnam was a different style as well. It was great to be a part of those different cultures and learn the styles of play. It helped me out here, being able to adjust so quickly.”

There is no denying that Nguyen has found success in MLS, but his transition into the league was not as smooth as he would have liked. Initially selected by the Vancouver Whitecaps, Nguyen caused quite a stir in American and Canadian soccer circles with a homophobic tweet to a teammate. Nguyen later apologized for his comment (he now believes he is a better person for having to go through that), but that was not the end of his negative incidences during his stint in Vancouver.

Approximately three months after signing with the Whitecaps in preseason, the club released him before the start of the 2012 campaign. That opened the door for Heaps, who has been familiar with Nguyen since his days at Indiana University, to bring him on board with the Revolution.

“You’re going to be loved and you’re going to be hated by certain coaches,” said Nguyen of his time in Vancouver. “My style of play is probably not going to fit with some coaches and it obviously didn’t fit with Vancouver’s [Martin Rennie] and it just didn’t work out. I wasn’t able to get any games in so I wasn’t happy there and luckily they let me go and then Jay picked me up and it’s been working out well now.”

So much so that Nguyen could potentially make his international return this summer in the Gold Cup, a tournament that could instill even more confidence in Ngueyn and also help him cross something else off his to-do list.

“I think he’s flirting with it and I think that’s the ultimate goal: to get yourself to a position where you’re on the national team of the country you come from,” said Heaps. “Lee definitely has the potential to get there, no question about it, and … when guys get in a rhythm, I think teams have to also be winning and playing well and I think that’s important. If we start winning games and Lee’s playing well then he’s definitely got to be someone that’s looked upon.”


  1. He’s just 26 with excellent passing skills and visions. I’ll play him over guys like DMB, Gomez … on the left.

  2. Good player, very smooth on the ball. Shows good vision, technique, and some pace. Almost like an Ozil-super-lite, floats around gracefully between the lines from what I’ve seen.

      • …I absolutely hate it when people can’t take a comment about an MLS player who is clearly not a world-class player and assume it’s making him out to be a world-class player. I also hate ellipsis.

  3. No smoke where there is no fire!
    This guy is not good enough for the USMNT. Just because he is a new flavor in the player pool does not make him an ingrendient for team success. What has he done?

  4. If I recall he went to Holland at the same time Bradley did, and their contracts were similar. It would be funny to see them suit up for the Nats at the same time.

    Nguyen’s biggest problem? He didn’t get Verbeek’s coaching.

  5. Catch Klinnsmann’s eye in his native Texas this weekend in Houston and he certainly has a shot. Kid can also shoot from range and work his way out of tight spaces.

  6. Franco, welcome back to SBI?

    id say he has a shot at the gold cup but most likely wait until January.

    I assume we are looking at 7-8 midfielders for the Gold Cup, so maybe 5 cms and 3 wingers
    1. Holden
    2. Diskerud
    3. Kljestan
    4. Beckerman
    5. Feilhaber
    6. Torres
    7. Williams
    1. Donovan-?
    2. Zusi
    3. Gatt
    4. Shea
    5. Beasley
    6. Nguyen

    assuming that a starter like JJ or Gomez doesn’t stay for the Gold Cup.. its a possibility but a few others like Donovan, Zusi, Beasley would have to be sent on vacation…

    • P L A I N and S I M P L E as far as playmakers go is right now better than anyone on your second list. I watch every revs game without him well, there not even good enough to play USL well that might be an exaggeration. He is very nice on the ball and reads everything like he is hundred times better than anyone else on the field.

  7. Every Revs game I’ve watched he’s looked like one of the most skilled players on the field. Given the Nats’ problems on the Wing, he is certainly worth a look for the Gold Cup.

    • I’d like to see him get another chance. Lord knows we could use speed and creativity on the wing. I was a big fan of his in the past. He had so much potential. But you could argue that most players of that generation with a lot of technical ability didn’t reach their potential: Nguyen, Feilhaber, Szetela, arguably Adu..

    • I watch every Revs game and he no doubt impresses. If Bengston and Sene were to finish more chances that Lee himself creates then his assist total would be somewhere near or above the league lead. He is a good complimentary player in a Gold Cup squad IMO.

  8. “You’re going to be loved and you’re going to be hated by certain coaches,” said Nguyen of his time in Vancouver. “My style of play is probably not going to fit with some coaches and it obviously didn’t fit with Vancouver’s [Martin Rennie] and it just didn’t work out.”

    Fairly accurate description for another former Nat, Mr. Fredrick Adu.

    Either way, more competition, the better. Don’t talk about it Nguyen, be about it.

    • I can agree with that, but it seems like Adu is 15 – 0 in favor of coaches who dislike him, his attitude, or his play.

      At any rate, I haven’t seen much of Nguyen at all. Is this a guy who can make a difference if the quality of players around him was maybe a little higher? It would nice if he paired well with Agudelo to kind of get them both going.

    • The difference between Adu and Nguyen is not much re production but about $400K in salary. Nguyen earns a salary in the neighborhood of, if not less, than his value. Which will keep him in MLS as long as he can play. Adu is overpriced, kills your cap structure, and does a little but not enough for DP money. If he made what Nguyen does and kept his mouth shut he might be a useful add in MLS, as he does produce some. But if you’re paying him $400-500K and he gets you a few goals and assists and creates locker room turmoil, it’s not worth it, which is why he’s a high-end journeyman, and why he can’t get his MNT campaign started. Because the teams are not moving him around to get him someplace he’s wanted, he’s a salary hot potato.

      The basic fact that Nguyen is playing creates the base for him trying to get in the pool. And though he has not necessarily been rewarded for it, he has been smart enough to go places he is wanted and gets played. As opposed to where his agent finds the highest paycheck. Even as the highest paid VN player I assume he could have sat a bench in Europe for more.

      Last, I think the Vancouver choice between Nanchoff and Nguyen has not played out in the Whitecaps’ favor, no? 282 minutes in 3 years and on to Portland?

      • Also, everything I’ve seen of the two suggests they could not be more different, Nguyen works his tail off and plays two ways, Adu focuses on offense to the detriment of defense and tends to hit “home run” passes in what my old club coach would refer to as Coca-Cola style, ie, hits his risky throughball and just stands there drinking a Coke admiring his attempt rather than supporting the play. Really unfair and inapt comparison.

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