New England Soccer Today

Raising His Game

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Something about Lee Nguyen is different this year.

He knows it, his coach knows it, and anyone who’s regularly watched the Revolution this year knows it, too. But Nguyen, who leads the Revolution with 13 goals and is already being touted as a potential league MVP candidate, hasn’t offered too many specifics about his success in 2014, opting instead to praise his teammates and the hard work he’s put in at practice.

“[My confidence] has a lot to do with the guys around me,” said Nguyen after last Saturday’s game versus Montreal, in which he scored. “They’ve been playing great. Defensively we’ve been strong and they’re keeping us in games and that helps us attacking players go forward and gives confidence knowing we can change the game, we can make a play and I think that’s all you can ask for from the team.”

The combination of Daigo Kobayashi and Nguyen in midfield has been effective all season and Nguyen has given credit where credit is due. Andy Dorman did yeoman’s work in midfield, too before his knee injury took him out of the picture. Having a second-year Scott Caldwell certainly hasn’t hurt, either. And having Jermaine Jones, whose foresight and strong transition play does more than just anchor the Revolution’s unorthodox 4-1-4-1 formation, has further bolstered Nguyen’s game, allowing him to roam around and smash even the slightest sniff of a chance at net.

But it’s important to study what Nguyen has accomplished by himself. Even with a cohesive and dynamic group of players around him, it’s his individual skill that has set him apart.

The most obvious difference between the Lee Nguyen of today and the Lee Nguyen of yesterday is that he’s finally put himself into positions where he can use his preferred right foot. Throughout 2012 and 2013, Nguyen was often placed on the left side, where he was mostly ineffective. He lost the ball a fair amount, finishing last season with 542 losses of possession and 306 unsuccessful passes.

And yet last year, the red flags that signified he belonged in a different role were relatively apparent: three of his four goals in 2013 were scored with his right foot.

Signs that Nguyen is now getting the ball in the right places? This year, 12 of his 13 goals were right-footed. He’s also on track to finish this season with fewer turnovers. With a handful of games remaining in the season, Nguyen has lost possession a more modest 390 times, with 240 unsuccessful passes.

A friend of mine who’s paid close attention to the team this year made an interesting observation. She called Nguyen a ball hog—but a good ball hog—because he makes things happen. And you know what? She’s right.

This year, Nguyen has been allowed to free roam, to venture out of his position, to either make a play or finish off a sequence. He has, according to OPTA, improved from last year in the following categories: successful lay-offs, corners won, successful passes in the opposition’s half, successful passes in his own half, successful dribbles, key passes, and successful long passes.

While the above statistics aren’t readily available for the rest of competitors around the league, it’s clear to those who’ve regularly watched him that Nguyen is becoming an elite player. While the Revolution have had ups and downs this season, Nguyen has not. He’s different, alright—but for the better.

Leave a Reply