Lee Nguyen wants a new contract, and he's upset that the New England Revolution won't come to the negotiating table, according to a report from Brian O'Connell at New England Soccer Today. He was absent from a training session last week, and apparently the absence was intentional on his part because he is "extremely unhappy" with the club.
O'Connell quotes an anonymous source who claims that Nguyen then returned to training because "he didn't want to disappoint his teammates and fans." Also, Nguyen was reportedly contemplating such a demonstration earlier in the season, but was afraid it would negatively impact his status with the United States National Team.
Jay Heaps, for his part, explained the absence as "personal matters" after the match against New York.
During ESPN's broadcast of the Revs' match against Philadelphia in April, Taylor Twellman speculated that Lee may not be happy with his contract, especially when he sees players around him like Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury - quality, integral players, but not players who have produced on the level Nguyen reached in 2014 - join the team and sign contracts for as much or more money than his.
It's unclear whether or not Lee's expression of displeasure will bear any fruit. The club responded by benching him this past weekend against the Red Bulls, the first time that a healthy Lee Nguyen has not started for the Revs since 2012. New England won the match 2-1, with Nguyen coming off the bench to assist on Teal Bunbury's game-winner in a textbook Revolution counterattack.
It's a tough spot to be in. Nguyen's base salary is $175,000, and according to O'Connell's report, it's a two-year deal with options for a third and fourth year, and a $40,000 signing bonus. The signing bonus probably explains why the MLS Players' Union has his guaranteed compensation at $193,750.
For 18 goals and five assists, that's chump change. However, Nguyen only totaled nine goals and nine assists over the previous two seasons combined. For that player, who finished 2013 with four goals and seven assists, that salary number seems pretty dead-on.
Furthermore, Nguyen's $175,000 contract was just negotiated ahead of the 2014 season. Nguyen reportedly approached the Revs during this past winter; predictably, the club was not excited about the idea of pushing aside a deal that was just signed a year ago and had him locked in with the club for four years, if the team picked up his options.
It's a deal that is really favorable to the organization, and they have a point. Not to mention they have negotiated a new deal with Nguyen now almost every season he's been in Foxboro. He was on a minimum-salary deal in 2012, which was bumped to something north of $73,000 for 2013. Then he negotiated his current deal before the 2014 season.
This puts him in a tough negotiating position, something he is not helping with his play to start the season. Nguyen has made eight appearances - seven starts - and played 635 minutes, but only produced one goal (a penalty) and two assists, including the assist this past weekend. Coming off the bench against New York, Lee looked as sharp and hungry as he's ever been, and he was denied by the crossbar two weeks ago against Salt Lake, but nevertheless, he has not played like the 2014 MVP candidate.
Unfortunately, he is still hoping to be paid like one. Nguyen is a professional and he clearly knows that tanking on the pitch isn't going to help his situation at all, but the distraction of a contract row is tough to ignore. Worse, it can have ripple effects throughout an entire squad. That is most worrying, as the Revolution under Jay Heaps have always been a team that has lived and died by its chemistry. If this breaks up that chemistry, New England could be in for yet another long, frustrating summer.
At this point, it seems clear that the club should at least sit down and talk to Nguyen about a new contract. However, they have no good reason to rush things, and they know it. The Revs are an organization that has never been shy about telling players to kick rocks when they don't like the money they're making. If this situation isn't handled carefully, Lee Nguyen could be next.