Lee Nguyen, the once highly rated United States youth international, is back in North America and he wants to get back in the US national team picture.
On Thursday, the Vancouver Whitecaps won the MLS weighted lottery for the 25-year-old’s rights, beating out FC Dallas, Houston, Real Salt Lake, Toronto FC and the LA Galaxy. Vancouver had a 47.6 percent chance, the highest of the participating teams, due to the nature of the weighted lottery process.
“I wanted to come back [to North America],” Nguyen told MLSsoccer.com by phone Thursday afternoon after Vancouver secured his rights. “I’m looking for a new challenge. Hopefully [by] coming back here, I’ll get myself back on the US national team radar.”
Nguyen won three caps for the US in 2007 while he was on the books of Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven. However, since moving on to the Danish league and in recent years the Vietnamese V-League, he has been somewhat of a forgotten man.
But regardless of the standard in the V-League, where he played with Hoàng Anh Gia Lai (2009-10) and then Becamex Binh Duong FC (2010-11), he was prolific, scoring 14 goals in 29 appearances.
In Vancouver, Nguyen may be asked to play more of a wing role rather than as a withdrawn striker, the position he played at PSV and in Vietnam.
"[Head coach Martin Rennie] call me earlier and welcomed me to the club," Nguyen said. "We talked a little bit about the club and what he has in store for next season and what he hopes to accomplish. I feel that we're on the same page and he plays a style I'm comfortable with.
“Depending on what formation he decides to play, he sees me as a left or right winger,” Nguyen said. “Or, he said, maybe as a creative midfielder, like an underneath striker, where I played in Holland and Vietnam. I can play either.”
Rennie watched Nguyen play at Indiana University before the player’s move abroad, and the attacker’s versatility factored into the club’s decision to pick him up.
“Sometimes in the past I’ve played 4-3-3, sometimes 4-4-2, sometimes 4-2-3-1,” Rennie said during a phone interview Thursday evening. “With him, the fact that he knows how to play as a winger or a player just off the striker, then that’s an advantage. He understands the role in a [4-3-3] system, either on the left or the right, so I think that’s an advantage.
“In Holland, they coach that system better than anybody, so I’m sure he’ll have learned a lot there.”
Nguyen, who grew up in Dallas, has never been to Canada but has heard good things about Vancouver, even if 2011 was somewhat of a rough start from a competitive perspective.
“I’m excited,” Nguyen said. “I don’t know anyone that has played for Vancouver, but I’ve heard it’s a great city, a great atmosphere and a great club. They didn’t perform too well in the league this year, but they’re bringing in new players and have a new coach, so hopefully we can turn things around next season.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.