Is he the next MVP or the next central midfielder for the USMNT? He could very well be both. The name on the lips of fans and pundits of MLS the past few months is Lee Nguyen. Why? Because he's good. No. He's really good. People everywhere are starting to realize that the 5'8 artisan is just as talented as anyone else in America. He not only leads his team with 13 goals and 4 assists, but he brings a rare package of skill, balance, vision, and work rate that is tearing Major League defenses to shreds. Watching the intuitive engine that is Lee Nguyen week in and week out, it is clear that he is the driving force behind the team that is sneaking its way back up the Eastern Conference table. However, the road to being a leading candidate in the MVP race hasn't always been smooth sailing.
When the Vancouver Whitecaps waived the 25 year-old Lee Nguyen in 2012 (now 27), the future of the creative midfielder's career was undoubtedly in question. Fast-forward a few months and Nguyen had joined the New England Revolution hoping to get some action with the struggling MLS club. On the night of May 12, 2012 Nguyen was included in the starting lineup against his former club hoping to get revenge on the team that had dumped him. From the sound of the first whistle, he played with a fire that is burning just as hot today. He went on to score twice and add an assist and best of all, this goal that Revs fans still dream about today.
Lee Nguyen scores an amazing goal for the New England Revolution (via Major League Soccer)
When he collected the ball and drilled home that half volley, New England realized that they had found a diamond in the rough. To be able to have the confidence and ability to turn, control, and strike a ball like that typifies the mentality of fantastic talent. Ever since that game, Nguyen has increasingly become more and more influential in the Revs game plan, and is now the focal point of its attack. Playing in role right behind the striker, Nguyen has free reign to do as he pleases as he operates in the pockets of space between the midfield and defense of his opponents. He is also comfortable drifting out to either wing to provide width if one of the outside mid's decides to tuck in, something invaluable to this Revolution side. His craft and guile on the ball often leaves defenders embarrassed and checking their pockets to see if Nguyen took their wallets en-route to goal. He is relentless in his pressuring, always trying to win the ball and is a force to be reckoned with when he fights for a 50/50 challenge. The best part about all this is that now, alongside Jermaine Jones, Nguyen will have less defenders tracking his movement, which will open up more space to be dangerous in. So, where exactly does he fit into the USMNT picture?
The buzz of the 2014 World Cup is dying down as the jokes of Suarez's meal of Pasta-Chiellini, and Lionel Messi's almost win against the German Machine is losing mainstream focus. And rightly so, club football is now in the spotlight, but inevitably people like to plan ahead and think of what could be in line for the US in four-years time. Some are already suggesting that Nguyen should be included in the squad that travels to Russia in 2018, but that is a long, long way away. In fact, it is downright silly to predict a team that will feature four years from now because there is so much that can happen in that span of time. However, the much more prudent approach to take if you do want to draw up a mock national team would be to look ahead to the 2016 Copa America.
When the Copa America rolls around in two years time Nguyen will be in his prime at 29 years of age, and if he can continue to develop and stay healthy then his ticket to the tournament should be a no brainer. This competition is also a wonderful opportunity for new prospects to gain exposure at the highest level. Indeed, many of stars of the modern game like Messi, Neymar, Suarez and James Rodriguez will be playing in this tournament to try and win some hefty silverware for their respective countries. Surely then Jurgen Klinsmann will want to show the World that the US is ready to expand upon what they did in 2014, but the only way to do that is to continue to grow. A very possible piece in that puzzle could be Lee Nguyen, which is why he must get a chance in the team in the near future.
Nguyen and Co. will have a busy few months ahead of them as they will try and battle its way to an MLS title. And who knows? If all goes well for the Revolution, expect to see a certain someone to win an MVP.