FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Lee Nguyen didn’t waste any time when he was told on Monday evening that he’d been traded from Inter Miami CF to the New England Revolution, returning to the club where he scored 51 goals and registered 49 assists in 191 appearances between 2012 and 2018.
So eager to get back to Foxborough was Nguyen that he immediately packed some bags, hopped in the car, and started driving.
“[I] made the drive the night I got traded directly, so I could get here as soon as possible, so I could get with these guys and start playing,” Nguyen said.
After completing the drive – approximately 1,500 miles if you go straight up Interstate 95 – Nguyen entered the league-mandated quarantine period, but that’ll be complete before Saturday’s trip to face the Philadelphia Union, meaning Nguyen could make his Revolution return as soon as this weekend.
But if Nguyen does indeed see action on Saturday night at Subaru Park it would likely be a brief run-out, as the 33-year-old midfielder will need a bit of time to build up his match fitness, having played just 92 minutes in five substitute appearances with Miami this season.
“His fitness levels are certainly not going to be at the level of players that have been playing on a regular basis,” said sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena. “He had limited minutes in Miami, so we’re going to be well aware of that. In his initial opportunities with our team, his minutes are certainly going to be limited.
“We’re hopeful we can get him up to speed in a short period of time, and by the end of September, he’ll be better positioned to play significant minutes.”
When those opportunities do come for Nguyen, he’ll add creativity and guile to a Revolution midfield somewhat lacking those qualities with Carles Gil sidelined for an extended period. Arena admitted that Gil’s absence presents a need for playmaking ability, but stopped short of saying that Nguyen will fill that role exclusively, saying that he’s capable of playing both as a No. 10 and as a No. 8.
Whichever role Nguyen is playing, both he and Arena are confident that he’s capable of helping push the Revs forward as they aim to improve upon last year’s first-round playoff exit.
“[I] had talks with Bruce (on Wednesday) and he thinks I can really help this team, and so do I,” said Nguyen. “I’ve watched them last year and this year in ‘the bubble,’ and this team has everything you need to get to the [MLS] Cup.
“I feel I can help them in different ways, whether it’s playing the 10 or the 8. But everyone has seen my game and I feel like I can help facilitate and give chances to these guys up top, while also being able to help with composure in possession and fluidity with our attack.”
No one will be more familiar with Nguyen’s game than Revolution fans who watched him patrol New England’s midfield for six seasons, highlighted by a 2014 campaign in which he scored 18 goals, was a finalist for league MVP, and helped the Revs to the verge of an MLS Cup title.
And although Nguyen was traded to Los Angeles FC in 2018 – prior to his move to Miami this past offseason – he has always kept a piece of New England in his heart, and he’s hoping that this unexpected reunion is perhaps an opportunity to bring that elusive first title to Foxborough and repay both the club and supporters who welcomed him with open arms back in 2012.
“This is the club that took a chance on me when I came into the league,” said Nguyen, who eventually became a member of the Revolution’s 25th anniversary All-Time Team after being picked up off waivers. “I hoped perhaps because it gave me my first start to build something here. I had a lot of love for this club and I always have, even when I left. I always wished well for this club and followed them from afar.
“It was unfortunate the way we parted ways, but I’ve never lost love for this club, so when I had the chance to come back and Bruce said I could be a big help for this team, I was excited. I’m looking forward to being able to compete and hopefully try to finish what we started here, and that’s to win a Cup and bring it back to New England.
“My favorite memories were from that 2014 year when we made that run to the final. We were so close, and that right there was one of my favorite years ever. Like I said, it was a great feeling to know that I had the opportunity to come back and finish what we started here.”