Lee Nguyen-Kelyn Rowe pairing sparks New England Revolution attack

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The idea of deploying Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe in the center of the New England midfield floated around for a couple of weeks before it finally came to fruition.

Circumstances eventually compelled Revolution coach Jay Heaps to act. After lacking attacking incisiveness and sharpness for the first six games of the season, his side needed to create more opportunities and pose more problems for opposing defenses. He felt moving the creative duo inside from their nominal wide roles and unleashing them in the center of the park would spark the necessary improvement.

Heaps and Nguyen eventually discussed the change and the corresponding switch to a 4-1-4-1 setup before it took effect for Saturday's 2-0 victory over Philadelphia. 

New England Revolution 2, Philadelphia Union 0 | MLS Match Recap

“For me, I can play anywhere in those attacking positions, but I talked to Jay during the week and told him that I'd feel comfortable there,” Nguyen told MLSsoccer.com. “It's where I played before I came here. It was more of an attacking style for the team. It gave us more of a chance to keep possession throughout the midfield.”

The additional precision on the ball stemmed from a handful of factors, including the additional width provided by wingers Diego Fagundez and Ryan Guy and the overall uptick in quality from the team as a whole, and spurred the Revolution attack. 

Nguyen and Rowe combined in the center of the park to trouble the Union rearguard all night long. Their contrasting qualities – Nguyen with his desire to tuck in behind and play the ball through, Rowe with his preference to surge through the line – struck the proper balance for a side in need of a different look in the final third. 

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“That's the good thing: we're both technical, but we don't have the same style,” Nguyen said. “It works well with me and him on and off the ball. That was a good thing, [particularly] with Kalifa [Cissé] sitting as well. You know you have that cushion, that defensive safety.”

The results against the Union suggest the alterations suited Nguyen (one goal and one assist) and Rowe (one assist) nicely. Heaps said the production in that match means he will consider persisting with his revamped setup – and the responsibilities it entails for Nguyen and Rowe – as the Revs prepare for Thursday's match at Portland (10:30 pm ET, Univision Deportes).

“It's something we've worked on for a few weeks, but we haven't had the right opportunity to really play it with injuries and certain things in the midfield with how we wanted to play,” Heaps said. “I felt like the other night was the right time to do it. It is something we really like going forward.”