Being named as an MVP candidate can bring about some added attention, just ask Lee Nguyen.
The midfielder was sensational in 2014, contributing 18 goals and five assists. These superb numbers made Nguyen a key target for opponents, who sometimes enlist a few players to help neutralize the crafty attacker. The extra attention is something that Nguyen has certainly noticed.
"It’s been like that more so this year," Nguyen said. "I think he’s [Heaps] been telling me just keep moving, finding the pockets and the guys around me will find me the ball. It’s just moving the ball quicker."
On Saturday, Nguyen found the recipe for success as he became the first player in New England Revolution history to record three assists in a single game. Whether he was offering a tasty through ball or a cheeky backheel, Nguyen was seen all over the field. It was a performance that drew plenty of praise from the locker room.
"Lee is just an awesome player," Diego Fagundez commented. "You know every time you get him the ball he’s going to get it back to you. He’s a playmaker and that’s what we want to see in this team."
Although Nguyen now has eight assists, which is his most in a single season since joining MLS in 2012, his overall numbers aren’t as good as last year. With seven games left on the slate, Nguyen trails his total shots by 15, shots on goal by 17, and goals by 13.
According to Heaps, however, the numbers only tell part of the story as he believes Nguyen has been huge for the Revolution all year long.
"I’ll tell you right now, I can come in here and tell you I’ve seen games where Lee had zero assists, zero goals and was better than he was tonight," Heaps said. "Tonight I thought he was really good obviously, he got three assists and I don’t want to knock that all."
While always an important part of the Revs’ success, it’s nights like Saturday that remind people that Nguyen was among the league elite last year.
When at his best, Nguyen almost looks like he’s gliding on the field, effortlessly picking out the perfect pass. This is the Nguyen that was an MVP candidate. This is the Nguyen that the Revs hope to see more of as the playoffs loom.
"He was fantastic tonight," Charlie Davies noted. "That’s the Lee that we’ve all been waiting for. We feel tonight he took a huge step forward, playing with the form he had last season.
"I feel that he’s even getting better. He’s starting to see the field a lot better than last year. When he plays like he did tonight, he makes everyone’s job that much easier."