New England Soccer Today

Why Didn’t Nguyen Take the Armband at ATL?

It was easy to miss amid all the chaos during Wednesday’s 7-0 loss at Atlanta: a brief, but compelling interlude about the state of the Revolution’s leadership situation quietly unfolded during the early stages.

In the wake of Xavier Kouassi’s 16th minute dismissal, the designated player, who was named captain for the match, relinquished the armband to Lee Nguyen, who had worn it for the better part of the past year. But immediately after receiving it, Nguyen deferred to goalkeeper Cody Cropper, who had never donned it until Wednesday (see the above video at the 0:27 and 1:33 marks).

So what prompted Nguyen to hand it over to Cropper instead of wrapping it around his left arm? It’s hard to say, but recent history may give us some of the answer.

Nguyen earned the armband on a full-time basis following the Copa America snub. Revolution coach Jay Heaps praised Nguyen for his attitude after the omission, and he remained the skipper until a hamstring injury sidelined him for two games in late-August. During that spell, Kouassi was named captain at New York City and at D.C. United.

But once Nguyen returned, the armband was passed on to another veteran: Chris Tierney, who sported it during home wins over Orlando City and Montreal.

Following the Orlando City match – the first game in which Nguyen didn’t wear the armband in over a year – the Revolution midfielder briefly touched on his feelings about not getting the chance to reclaim it.

“Armband or not, I know I’m the captain of this team,” Nguyen said after the match. “I can lead this team, and that’s how I look at it.”

The armband question was also raised during Heaps’ post-game press conference following the win over Orlando City, a game that Nguyen matched an MLS record by collecting four assists.

“In terms of captains, I think we’ve discussed this before,” Heaps said at the time. “It’s just a matter of, for me, I like having a shared load. I like when we have more voices. We’re in a tough time right now. One voice isn’t enough in the locker room. And you have Lee, and Chris, and Scotty [Caldwell] and [Xavier] Kouassi. You just have a couple different guys that can really pull the group together, and that’s why I like moving that around a little bit, just to keep everyone having that ability to have that voice.”

Did Nguyen shun the armband as a form of protest? Or was it a sign that Nguyen genuinely does not believe he needed to wear it to validate his position as a team leader?

It’s hard to say from the outside, but the optics are sure to create more discussion about the apparent lack of leadership that’s plagued the Revolution since the departure of Jermaine Jones.

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