The Lee Nguyen news that broke earlier this week should be quite an eye-opener for the young winger. Nguyen, once a promising attacker who seemed to be oozing with national team potential, is clearly at a crossroads. It’s on him to show he’s got the stuff, or his days in MLS will die a quick and merciless death.
The skinny looks like this: Vancouver acquired Nguyen, 25, through a weighted lottery in December. He was in the Whitecaps training camp, playing along the outside spots, when I visited with the club in Arizona a month ago. Turns out, he didn’t stick around much longer than I did; Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie, weighing all those splendid options in attacking positions, waived the Dallas native. New England claimed Nguyen and he was on the practice field for new Revs boss Jay Heaps on Tuesday.
Kyle McCarthy’s piece from this evening at MLSSoccer.com says Nguyen has called this a “humbling experience.” Hopefully it can be a learning one, too.
Four things to know about Nguyen as he attempts to catch on at Gillette:
- First, you had better believe that Vancouver tried to make a trade in order to get something (anything, perhaps) in return. There’s only one reason they wouldn’t be able to: no one wanted to part with anything of value to acquire Nguyen.
- Second, this wasn’t his first failed fly-by in MLS. He spent some time training with FC Dallas two years ago, before the 2010 season. There was some interest at (then-named) Pizza Hut Park, but not apparently at the money Nguyen wanted. So he returned to Vietnam, where he was reportedly one of the country’s highest paid athletes. You know, bigger fish-smaller pond kind of thing.
- Third, when I saw him play in Arizona, it was clear he had all the technical qualities he would need. But MLS is a physical league, as we all know. I wondered if he would find himself pushed off the ball too often, if he could make the adjustment? A lot of his game was about running at defenders. In MLS, you can’t just run past them; they get to put a body on you, and it becomes a lot tougher path to goal.
- Lastly, you might be tempted to say that Nguyen got caught in a numbers game at Vancouver, where Rennie has a wealth of midfield and striking options. There’s surely some truth to that. But don’t forget this: Rennie mentioned when we spoke in February that Nguyen had an early edge because he already knew how to play the angles in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, which the new Whitecaps’ boss wants to play. That’s from Nguyen’s days at PSV Eindhoven, where he played under famed coach Guus Hiddink from 2006-2008.
So, if he couldn’t make it in Vancouver …
I spoke to Nguyen in Vancouver, too. And I talked to him years ago, around the time he played for the United States at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship in the Netherlands. He’s always been a pleasant enough person to be around (despite that ridiculously tone deaf stunt he pulled on Twitter a couple of weeks back.) I hope he understands: this MLS train doesn’t just keep chugging along the tracks no matter what. At some point, it’ll reach its last stop. It’s on Nguyen to say “when.”