FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A string of stellar play in recent weeks has finally earned Lee Nguyen some long overdue national recognition. After another virtuoso performance in last weekend’s 2-1 victory over Toronto FC, MLSsoccer.com’s Matthew Doyle called Nguyen “the best MLS player you’re not watching,” while Sports Illustrated’s Liviu Bird referred to the New England Revolution playmaker as “one of the most underrated midfielders” in the league.
But within the four walls of the New England Revolution’s locker room, Nguyen’s influence is anything but underrated; his teammates are well aware just how critical he is to the club’s success.
“He makes us tick as a team going forward and he can control the tempo of the game,” said Andy Dorman, who operates behind Nguyen as a holding midfielder in New England’s hybrid setup. “The main thing is to get him on the ball as much as possible and we did that to a certain extent on Saturday – probably not as well as we have done the rest of the games this season, but it was enough for him to have an effect on the game.”
Nguyen’s influence in Saturday’s come-from-behind win over TFC was punctuated by his game-winning penalty kick in the late stages – his team-leading fourth goal of the season and third successful penalty in the last three games – but his performance was about so much more than the goal.
New England’s dynamic midfielder had a team-high 101 touches against Toronto and completed 38-of-49 passes, two of which were considered “key” by Opta. Nguyen also tormented TFC with his ability to dribble his way out of tight spaces, helping the Revs relieve pressure at critical moments.
But Nguyen’s contributions weren’t – and aren’t – limited to the attack; his boundless energy and keen soccer sense helped push TFC’s defenders and midfielders into uncomfortable situations, forcing turnovers which immediately led to scoring chances for the Revolution.
“I think that’s one thing that Lee does well,” head coach Jay Heaps said while praising Nguyen’s work rate. “When a team is building or trying to build, he’s taking away one or two options by his pressure, and that really helps our backs get set, it really helps the other midfielders get set.”
“It’s part of the philosophy Jay’s instilled in all of us,” Nguyen said of his defensive efforts. “You work as a unit defensively and it’s going to turn over to offensive chances. That’s been the mindset. If we put in the effort defensively, it’s going to create goals and chances for us going forward.”
When asked about his current form on both sides of the ball, Nguyen couldn’t deny that he’s been at the top of his game in recent weeks. But while his teammates weren’t shy about praising his performances, Nguyen instead chose to deflect credit for his own success to the entire Revolution roster.
“It goes a lot to the team. We’re playing great soccer right now,” he said. “Every week is going to be another player that’s going to step up huge. (Patrick) Mullins did great for us this week to have that [equalizer] to basically keep us in the game. Our team’s doing great right now.”