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Lee Nguyen makes his mark with strong January camp showing

Photo by Kelvin Kuo/USA Today Sports
Photo by Kelvin Kuo/USA Today Sports

Less than a week after U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann called him “one of the winners” of the January camp, Lee Nguyen put in another strong showing during Friday’s friendly against Canada.

“Like anyone, you hope for positive steps going forward,” Nguyen told SBI after the game. “And when you get your opportunities, (you hope) to make the most of it.”

When it comes to the national team, Nguyen’s long been an outsider looking in. After making his first appearance for the senior squad in 2007, Nguyen didn’t get another call up for seven years, and then it was only for a pair of friendlies.

Yet, slowly but surely, Nguyen has worked his way back into the national team conversation. He’s made his case with strong showings for the New England Revolution, while also displaying a high level of ball control that’s otherwise lacking on the U.S. roster.

“His talent to combine, his talent to do quick moves and open things up, if it’s with a final pass, if it’s with a shot himself,” said Klinsmann in Friday’s post-game press conference, “that’s what he does in New England. He’s dangerous.”

For his part, Nguyen is still getting comfortable on the national team. Much of the midfielder’s play style relies on knowing exactly when and where his teammates are making their runs, but building that connection takes time.

“They aren’t fine-tuned yet,” said Klinsmann after the game. “Sometimes the last pass is missing, the last touch is missing. That’s normal. They’re in preseason.”

“That’s what this January camp, and all these camps, are for: to build that chemistry,” said Nguyen. “I think me and Michael started gelling, he was able to find me in the gaps, and I think I’m comfortable with the guys that I’ve seen in the league (like) Jozy (Altidore), Gyasi (Zardes).”

Despite dominating possession for the better part of 90 minutes, the U.S. struggled to find that go-ahead goal against a defensive Canadian side. Altidore eventually headed home the game-winning goal late into the match.

While Nguyen was a key part of a solid midfield performance for the home team, he didn’t put in a perfect performance. After the game, Klinsmann pointed to his decision-making in front of the goal, suggesting Nguyen needs to be a bit more selfish when it comes to taking chances.

“We told him, following the Iceland game, take that opportunity and whenever you get a situation where you can shoot, shoot,” said Klinsmann. “This is a bit of a process. It’s not coming over night that you suddenly don’t lay it off to Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones, (and instead say) ‘no no, I’ll take it and shoot.’”

That’s not to say Nguyen didn’t contribute to the attack. Several of the U.S.’s strongest combos in the final third started at Nguyen’s feet. In the 53rd minute he arced a sharp cross to Jordan Morris, who was barely beaten to the ball by Canadian goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau.

However, Nguyen knows there’s plenty of work to be done.

“It’s still the first month coming back, so there’s still a lot of improvements to be made,” he said. “For me it’s just getting those experiences and trying to keep improving on those things.”

When it comes to the January camp as a whole, though, Nguyen’s definitely improved his standing with the one person whose opinion matters.

“We are very pleased with these four weeks from Lee,” said Klinsmann. “He really tried to make a mark and he did that. And it was nice.”


  1. Nguyen is not a quality enough player for the Nat team. Sorry. I know there are a lot of homers that think he is the next best thing since sliced bread, but he looked pretty poor to me against, frankly, poor teams. Yes Iceland beat Holland. However, they were missing their best players. Against a CONCACAF minnow, Nguyen was unable to break them down.

    • I don’t think anyone really believes that Nguyen “is the next best thing since sliced bread”. Nguyen isn’t going to be the savior of US Soccer, or magically transform us into Germany, Argentina, or Spain. He’s not CR7 or Messi. However, he is one of the more technical attackers available within the current US player pool. He is a solid player who can hold his own against CONCACAF level opponents. And surviving/advancing through the Hex to qualify for the WC is the current goal of the USMNT.
      Nguyen & Nagbe are fairly new to the National Team. It will take them a bit of time for them to learn the tendencies of their teammates and build the necessary chemistry required for them to be as effective as possible. Till then they’ll be a little inconsistent. The more camp & games they get the better they’ll do. In the past 2 games they both produced some solid scoring opportunities that our strikers failed to convert.

      Besides Nguyen is a short term solution (1-3 yrs) to our creativity problem while we wait for a couple of the younger creative players come of age. Players like Pulisic (17), Flores (19), Scott (19), Zelalem (19), Guido (21), & Lleget (23). Most of which are a couple of years away from being able to really contribute on a consistent basis.

      • I realize you’re being sarcastic; and yes, preferably, we’d have 3-4 players at each position of suitable quality to step onto the field without a noticeable decline in play. Unfortunately the US does not have that level of talent at the moment. In most cases we’re lucky to find 1-2 players at each position, and in some instances we can’t even do that. We’re getting better, but we still have a long ways to go.
        Feilhaber does have the quality to be on the USNT, as he’s shown in the past. However, he’s also shown that he can also be a head case and an entitled a$$. After his most recent spout off the the media I can’t see him ever representing the US again, as long as JK is the coach.

    • Did he have a bad game?

      I didn’t watch, but to my eyes over the last bunch of matches Jones has seemed like one of our classiest, technical, toughest players. All those things, in the same bag, pretty consistent performances, and probably a giant presence personality-wise inside the group. He was awesome vs. T&T, the last game that mattered.

      So, if he should stop playing someone will have to take his spot away.

    • Bryan, I respect your opinion but until someone comes along thY can provide better on the field leadership and Quality in midfield than I see no reason not to continue to call JJ in. He’s our best midfielder, it’s not debateable! Yeah he’s getting up there in age but up can’t just turn him away because of age if he continues to produce. Now, I don’t like the idea of him at CB but I feel like he was put there yesterday only because we were thin at the position and you don’t want to throw too many young players into the fire at one time because you still want to win the game considering the results that weent attained in 2015 with a big 2016 upon us and confidence needs to be had. Lee and Nagbe were the standouts, maybe Birnbaum too, and it’ll be up to JK to put the pieces together when the full roster is assembled. 2016 should be a fun and interesting year to see how this team progresses amidst the qualifiers, Olympic Qualifying and Copa this summer.

      • Anyone else feeling like Gyasi need not be an automatic starter anymore?? His touch is just not there and how many times will he squander a great opportunity to score or lay the ball off to someone else for a chance on goal!!!

    • Don’t understand the hate on Jones around this site.. The article is not even about him and he had one really good game vs Iceland and one mixed/mostly good game vs Canada filling in at CB. No matter where he plays he has a high percentage of completed and quality passes, absolute leader and ability to own a region of the field. Sure he gets scappy at times, and he is older but still an invaluable part of this team.

      Back to the article, Lee was the clear winner of this camp. Bradley is looking sharp, Jozy at times, Kiessewetter, Acosta both really helped themselves in this camp. Got to be positive about the outcome of the “preseason” camp.

  2. Both Nguyen and Nagbe are very good in close spaces. Great first touch, calm, always seem to be acting with a purpose. Also appears like Bradley feels comfortable with them. Now JK has to figure out how to make it work when adding Fabian, Bedoya and Wood into the mix, and how to get over his bizarre ‘Jermaine Jones must start no matter the cost’ addiction.

    • He starts because he’s a Champions League quality player who’s performed well on the world’s biggest stages…

      He’s an integral part of the current USMNT set up and brings more to the table in terms of experience than many in the current pool..

      His presence alone in this January camp communicates to the younger/newer players the coach’s intent…

      Start him until another Jones steps up


      • Have to disagree with you. Jones WAS a Champions League player….he isn’t now. Right now he’s a 34 yr old player without a club and as such he should not be starting for the USMNT. A call up to the January Camp as a mentor…fine. But his starting both games irked me.
        The question for coaching staff now is how to devise a formation that will enable us to field our best players in a way to get the best out of them.
        I would suggest something along the following:


        Use Bedoya for Nguyen to start against more attacking teams.
        Morris for Wood as teams tire. Or possibly Pulisic
        Still need to find a more active LB and a depth options for Jozy (Kiesewetter & Agudelo?)
        CB depth w/ Besler, Gonzalez, Miazga, Alvarado
        CM depth w/ Cameron, Williams, Morales

        Regardless it is time to move away from relying on OLD players like Jones & Dempsey. They can and will still contribute this year (2016), but they should not be starters anymore.

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