FOXBORO, Mass. – Lee Nguyen showed New England fans a taste of what he was capable in 2012, especially when he hit a Goal of the Year candidate against Vancouver – the very team who waived him before the season started.
Then in 2013, it became even more important how good Nguyen was, becoming a key cog in the midfield after playing 33 games on the season.
Now in 2014, Nguyen is having MVP-caliber season. He added to his already lengthy highlight reel, scoring his team best 11th and 12th goals of the year in a 3-1 win over defending MLS champion Sporting KC. Both goals were created by Nguyen himself.
“I think Lee is showing you what he can do,” head coach Jay Heaps said. “We’ve seen it for a while and you guys see it game in and out. But, we see it every day and he’s really special. He’s got the quickest feet in the league and if you give him a little bit of space, he can hit a ball … as good as anyone.”
Nguyen netted his 11th goal of the season in impressive fashion. Just moments into the second half, midfielder Daigo Kobayashi took possession after Nguyen forced a turnover and then fed Kelyn Rowe down the left wing. Rowe calmly cut back and found Nguyen square to him at the top of the area. Nguyen took one touch to settle the pass and then curled one into the top right corner, beating a stretched out Andy Gruenebaum. The goal gave New England a 2-1 lead in the 48th minute.
Nguyen completed the brace in extra time and put the icing on the cake. Gruenebaum fed defender Lawrence Olum up the middle as time ticked away. With nearly all of Sporting KC’s players up the field, Olum went to play a long ball but it was blocked down by a charging Nguyen. Rookie forward Patrick Mullins raced onto the ball and took a touch near the top of the area. As Olum and Besler closed down, Nguyen made an intelligent run to the right and Mullins laid it off to him.
Nguyen took a one-time shot with his right foot and buried into the far post corner, making it 3-1.
“I think right now I’m playing a little bit higher but the guys are doing great,” Nguyen said. “They put me in great positions to put the ball in the back of the net so I got to reward them. Kelyn played me a great ball there in the first one and Mullins did a great job to get it through Besler. You know, when your team has put you in a good position, you’ve just got to reward them.
Teammates have been very supportive of Nguyen, including the Revs other goal scorer Teal Bunbury. When asked if Nguyen should be considered for MLS MVP, Bunbury said, “100 percent.”
“When [Nguyen is] working really hard, when he’s on both sides of the ball and he’s picking off loose balls or stepping in and tackling people, he’s almost a double threat,” Heaps said. “And then he gets more offense that way because teams can put a man on him when we’re building the play up to him and the possession they mark him off pretty well. He finds the ball a lot but when he (gets a) turn over and you can’t get a guy to him and he has a little bit of space, he lights up the field. He has abilities to attack, he can set someone up, he can pass. So, he’s playing really well right now, we need to keep going.”
It wasn’t just all about the goals either as Nguyen completed 35 passes on the night – third best on the team – and was in the top five Revolution players in pass completion percentage. Nguyen also had three tackles on the game and had to deal with USMNT star Graham Zusi.
Nguyen is now tied for fifth in MLS for goals scored with LA Galaxy striker Gyasi Zardes. Just how good of a season is the 27-year-old having? Consider this: Nguyen is the highest scoring midfielder in the league, one ahead of Clint Dempsey.
“It feels great,” Nguyen said of the win. “We’re in a good position right now but we’ve just got to keep pushing. We just saw the results: Philly won. So you know, we’ve got teams nipping at the heel right now. We did great to get a win with Toronto and now here. Now we’ve just got to get one on Sunday.”