You know you’re doing something right when your coach compliments you when you’re not even in camp. Such is the case for Lee Ngyuen, who recieved praise from club coach Jay Heaps for his recent performance with the US men’s national team.
"I think he was really mentally in a good place in terms of what he can do," Heaps told media on Wednesday. "I was excited in speaking with Jurgen [to know] that they’re excited about where he was in camp. I thought his performance the other day definitely showed that."
On Sunday, Nguyen was handed his first-ever start with the USMNT and went the full 90 in the team’s 3-2 victory over Iceland. Starting on the left, Nguyen was also given time in the center. He was dynamic in both spots, making smart runs and providing smooth passes.
Nguyen nearly got an assist in the 16th minute when he offered Gyasi Zardes a picturesque cross. Unfortunately, Zardes’ header went over the crossbar.
Despite not getting on the score sheet, Nguyen was heavily praised by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
"After three weeks of training, he’s definitely one of the winners of this period," Klinsmann told USSoccer.com. "He was really prepared for this camp. From day one he set the tone. He said, ‘OK I was here last year, and I didn’t make the impression that I wanted to make, so I better make it right now.’ So he was unquestionably in the starting lineup after a week."
Nguyen’s club coach isn’t surprised by Klinsmann’s kind words since Heaps has seen the attacker grow tremendously since he joined the New England Revolution in 2012.
While many people will focus on Nguyen’s 2014 season, in which he was a league MVP finalist for collecting 18 goals and five assists, 2015 wasn’t bad either. Nguyen recovered from a slow start to the year to nab seven goals and ten assists. This is the type of grit and growth that put Nguyen on Klinsmann’s radar.
"Lee and I have had a lot of conversations," Heaps said. "A lot of times [those conversations are] about where his game is going and how to break into the national team. Lee is very determined. He’s been playing very well for us [and] finished the season off excellent."