FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – We’ll see many of the usual suspects in the 2014 AT&T MLS All-Star Game, particularly in midfield, where U.S. National Team members Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi and Kyle Beckerman led fan voting as of July 7. And that’s fine. It’s even understandable. The MLS All-Star Game is a spectacle designed to highlight the league’s marquee players.
But the All-Star Game should also be about showcasing those players who’ve been the top performers this particular season, and under those criteria, there needs to be a spot reserved for Lee Nguyen when the league’s best take on Bayern Munich on Aug. 6 at Providence Park.
Nguyen has the stats to match up with other midfielders around MLS; he leads the Revolution with five goals – two of which have been game winners – and he’s stepped up in pressure situations to bury all three of New England’s penalty kicks this season.
Stats, however, do not adequately capture Nguyen’s contributions to the Revolution. His composure and vision help the Revs relieve pressure in the defensive third to spark the counter. His smarts allow New England to dictate the tempo when appropriate. And his tenacity forces turnovers in dangerous spots.
Nguyen’s performances have not gone unnoticed. Ives Galarcep (Soccer by Ives) named Nguyen his Player of the Month for May, while MLSsoccer.com’s Matt Doyle called Nguyen “the best MLS player you’re not watching” following a virtuoso performance in early May.
Recognition from national media is nice – not to mention warranted – but it’s the praise Nguyen receives from opponents which truly reveals his impact. After Nguyen ran roughshod over the Philadelphia Union in a 5-3 victory back in mid-May, then-Union head coach John Hackworth offered him unsolicited praise.
“They’re good, and they’re really good when it matters,” said Hackworth. “In the final third, they’re exceptional right now. Their speed of play, combination play, one-touch passing. Lee Nguyen is playing as good as anybody in this league.”
While Hackworth admired Nguyen’s ability from the sidelines, teammate Andy Dorman is offered an even clearer vantage point while playing alongside Nguyen in the Revolution’s midfield. Perhaps no one has a better perspective of Nguyen’s class than Dorman, who said that as a holding midfielder, one of his primary duties is to get Nguyen on the ball as often as possible.
“He makes us tick as a team going forward and he can control the tempo of the game,” Dorman said. “His work rate, at the same time, is spot on, and he makes my job in midfield a lot easier.”
It’s that work rate which has earned Nguyen the highest praise from his own head coach, Jay Heaps, who has lauded Nguyen’s defensive pressure and willingness to track back. He’s a wizard on the ball, to be sure, but it’s the little things like taking the proper angle to force an opponent into an uncomfortable pass which truly separate Nguyen from the pack.
A stellar start to this campaign had many calling for Nguyen’s inclusion in the U.S. National Team ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The 27-year-old Texan last appeared for the USMNT back in 2007, but his performances this year have undoubtedly put him back on the radar.
As it were, Nguyen wasn’t named to the U.S. roster for this year’s World Cup, but that doesn’t mean we’ve completely missed out on the chance to see him compete against the world’s best. He could – and should – do just that when the MLS All-Stars take on German giant Bayern Munich in early August.