The New England Revolution have played all of one game on national television this year: a 1-1 draw against Chicago back in April. Compare that to say, the Red Bulls, who are currently in the midst of seven straight games being played on either ESPN or NBCSN. There are a couple reasons for this, but the end result is that the average fan isn’t very familiar with the team that currently sits third in the east. The recent signing of Jermaine Jones is by far the most recognizable name on the Revs, but there’s a lot of talent in Foxboro.
Perhaps the most important player for New England is Lee Nguyen. Born in Texas, Nguyen went to Indiana University for a season (like San Jose youngster Tommy Thompson), but began his professional career in the Netherlands. Unable to get much playing time for PSV, he moved to Denmark and then Vietnam before popping up in MLS with the Revolution in 2012. After a pair of solid seasons, Nguyen has emerged as a scoring threat this year with 12 goals, the most of any midfielder in the league. It’s time for us—and maybe Jurgen Klinsmann—to take a look at Foxboro and Lee Nguyen.
On July 26th, the Revolution lost 2-1 at home to Columbus. It was their eighth-straight loss, a franchise record, and they sat sixth in the Eastern Conference. Today they are in 3rd, and they can thank Lee Nguyen for that. The Revs are 5-1-1 in their last seven games, with Nguyen notching six goals and three assists in that span. He almost single-handedly brought an end to their streak, scoring two goals and assisting on the third in a 3-0 win over Colorado. Nguyen’s second goal, the best of the night, effectively sealed the three points.
Where Gyasi Zardes scores almost exclusively within the box, four of Nguyen’s last six goals have come on long shots from outside the 18. He most often plays as part of a central two in a 4-1-4-1, which allows him to get forward into the space just in front of the defense. In that space, he is a huge danger.
Nguyen leads the Revs in shots on the season, and he’s finally putting these speculative shots past the keeper. Over the last seven games, six of his 21 shots have resulted in goals: Nguyen is converting at an unsustainable rate of 28.5%, especially considering that he takes so many shots from outside of the box.
But then, his previous conversion rate (just two goals on 38 non-penalty shots) didn’t accurately reflect Nguyen’s true level of skill either. It’s no coincidence that New England’s losing streak coincided with a cold stretch for Nguyen. In games where he scores a goal, the Revs are 8-1-1 this year. With Nguyen scoring, they look like the playoff threat many thought they would be before the season.
Teams have begun to recognize that Nguyen needs to be closed down to prevent him from taking aim. And as they’ve done this, he’s gotten his teammates involved. Nguyen had seven assists last year, but only one before this recent stretch in 2014. That seems improbable given that he’s capable of passes like this:
It’s possible that some of Nguyen’s passing has gone to waste this year. New England’s 39 goals are tied for 9th in MLS (in other words, average), but Nguyen’s 12 constitute almost a third of those. The players in front of Nguyen—19-year-old Diego Fagundez, rookie Patrick Mullins, and former Sporting Kansas City player Teal Bunbury—have been very inefficent with their shooting this yer. Against Chicago, Nguyen made a pair of excellent passes that, on another night, might have gone down as assists.
In 2007, Bob Bradley called a 20-year-old Lee Nguyen up for the USMNT. Nguyen played in a friendly against China, and two group stage losses at that year’s Copa America. He hasn’t played for the national team since. I don’t know whether he’d be able to win a spot in the current Yanks midfield, but I believe he’s done enough to earn a call-up from Jurgen Klinsmann. If not for one of the upcoming friendlies this fall, then for next January’s camp. At 27, Nguyen is fulfilling his potential, and he deserves a second shot.