Revolution reaping benefits of versatile Lee Nguyen's resurgence in 2017

Lee Nguyen - New England Revolution - isolated

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When Jay Heaps plans out the New England Revolution’s upcoming game, one objective is always on his mind.

“For me, it’s critical that we draw up where Lee Nguyen should be getting most of his touches,” Heaps said after training at Gillette Stadium midweek. “It’s knowing where he can be impactful, then from there discussing which formation we need to get there.”

From that approach, Nguyen has found widespread success in 2017, putting up six goals and seven assists, the latter mark second best in MLS. Furthermore, the 30-year-old ranks fifth on the league-wide Audi Player Index, which is used to measure a player’s offensive and defensive contributions.

Inspired by that form, Kelyn Rowe said his fellow midfielder has shown glimpses of his 2014 self, a campaign in which Nguyen was an MVP finalist and led the Revs to the MLS Cup final.

“I think you see the 2014 Lee a little bit, the year he got the MVP snub and we made it all the way to the finals,” Rowe said. “You see that confidence coming back and the fire of him not getting called into the [US] national team, it made him a little angry. For us, it’s great because we can rely on him going forward.”

Plaudits come far and wide, but Nguyen’s done it all without a set position.

Depending on the week, the Revs’ captain has lined up as a second striker, a right winger and a central attacking midfielder. Therefore, Heaps said conversations with Nguyen during the week are geared towards explaining what his defensive responsibilities will be.

The rest, to Nguyen’s understanding, is simply doing his thing.

“Anywhere around the goal, that's where I like to be and that's where I like to get my touches,” Nguyen said. “The more touches I can get closer to the attacking third, the better. I can get 90 touches but if 80 of them are at midfield, then it's no good for me or the team. Jay's been doing a great job to try and make sure I get those balls in those dangerous areas.”

And Nguyen has just done that, taking every formation change and new role in stride, which he said is something any professional footballer should be able to do.

Still, Scott Caldwell said there’s an underappreciated part of Nguyen’s game: His defensive contributions. The Revs midfielder felt it was on full display June 3 when New England swept aside Toronto FC 3-0 at home.

The Reds were pushing for a lifeline late, and Nguyen tracked back near his own 18-yard box, breaking up the opposition’s attack.

“Now, every game he’s bringing that final piece,” Caldwell said. “You can see it in the stats, but he’s producing and you can see it with your eyes. It’s goals, assists, and especially that last game when he made a couple key defensive plays getting back down the right side. Every level of his game is there.”

The big thing, though, Nguyen said, is he’s not satisfied with just turning in strong performances – he wants the Revs to string together results.

They’re doing just that, as Heaps’ side is amidst a 3-1-1 stretch in league play. New England, however, are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, and Nguyen said his biggest goal is changing that situation.

“My main focus is trying to do what I can to help the team win,” Nguyen said. “That's my mindset going into each and every game. I know what I'm great at is getting those balls in dangerous spots in the final third, and if that helps the result, then great.”