FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Throughout preseason, Jay Heaps was searching for players who would fit into his possession-oriented system. Players who could pass the ball and were dynamic going forward. Players who brought a creative element to the attack. Players who were intelligent in possession.
Then one fell into his lap.
Former U.S. National Team midfielder Lee Nguyen was waived by the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 1 – less than three months after he was acquired via weighted lottery – paving the way for the New England Revolution to snap up the services of the 25-year-old Texan.
“In knowing the kind of player he was before he got here, I knew – and we as a staff knew – that he fit in with the technical style we want to play,” said Heaps. “He’s had to play a few different positions, but every time he steps on the field, he wants to compete. When you have that kind of competitive edge with the technical ability he has, it makes a pretty good player.”
Nguyen has shown that ability early in his stint with the Revolution. After a 21-minute substitute appearance as a withdrawn forward in the season opener against the San Jose Earthquakes, Nguyen started New England’s next two matches against Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers on the left wing.
Flashes of his skill on the ball have been evident in each match, particularly in the home-opening victory over Portland. Nguyen’s performance against the Timbers prompted Heaps to call him “special” during the postgame press conference.
“I think it’s taken me a couple games to get adjusted and I’m still trying to get to know my teammates,” said Nguyen. “I think this past Saturday (against Portland) was a good start and a good way to jump to next week.
“There are a lot of players here who can play, as well, so it kind of complements my game,” he added. “Players like Benny (Feilhaber), Saer (Sène), Chris (Tierney) in the back, as well, helping and supporting. We’ve got players like Clyde (Simms), Shalrie (Joseph). Just those players, they all can play and that helps me adjust to the game.”
While Nguyen passes off much of the praise to his teammates, they’re much more willing to commend his recent performances when asked about the crafty playmaker.
“Lee’s been great, especially with possession,” said Simms. “He’s a great outlet for myself and the backs. He’s always good at finding those little spots in behind the midfielders, trying to find space, and he’s very good with the ball. He doesn’t turn it over much, doesn’t turn it over in bad spots and he keeps the other team on their toes.”
It’s clear from the outset that Nguyen is the type of player Heaps was searching for this preseason. Early returns have proven he’s a natural fit. But Nguyen’s quick to point out that the feeling is mutual.
“I like the way we try to play,” Nguyen said. “We have the players to do it. I like to see that; that trying to play football.”