FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The numbers simply do not match up for Lee Nguyen.
Coming off of a career year in which he was a top candidate for MLS MVP, his production has yet to compare to last season’s 18-goal, 5-assist performance.
That is, if you only look at the numbers. Nguyen may not be lighting up the scoreboard in the same fashion as he did a year ago, and there are numerous factors for that, but the New England Revolution midfielder is regaining that edge after finding new ways in and around the opposition.
“He was a key person for teams, he was last year at the end of the year,” said Revs coach Jay Heaps. “It’s not so much what to do when Lee’s getting marked. Obviously, we can pull him around and we have put him in different spots on the field, start him in different positions. For me, it’s the guys around him that have to also lift up their game, because they’re going to have more space and time because Lee is occupying one-and-a-half or two players.”
Slowed out of the gate by a groin injury, Nguyen said he is feeling just fine, even in the midst of the Revs' three-game run in seven days, and even as he continues to wear a splint on his right hand to protect a dislocated finger he suffered against Portland at the beginning of the month.
“Anytime you’re out you need a couple of games to get your feet back, get your form back,” said Nguyen. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s a long season. I feel great. The main thing is that we want to win. We've got to go out there and play hard for 90 minutes and get a win.”
Lately Nguyen has begun showing the form he held throughout much of last season, playing with intent in the Revs' two previous games: in D.C., where he registered his third assist, and then in Columbus where he scored 33 seconds into the game, his first goal from open run of play this season.
His creativity across central midfield and into the attacking third has been increasingly shining, evident in his three assists. And he has been getting more looks, firing off 10 shots in his last three games as opposed to just three in the four matches prior.
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Despite the Revs recent run of results and Nguyen’s penchant for setting up the offense, his coach feels that his defensive efforts are playing a big role in how the offense takes shape and is hopeful that could help get both the club and player fully back on track.
“It was a perfect example the other night of where we were in a good shape defensively, Lee created a chance and he finished it off,” Heaps said of Nguyen’s 1st-minute goal vs. Columbus. “As we get further into the season, we’re going to need those types of situations where our defense leads the offense.
“I thought he was really good against D.C. I thought he was really good against Columbus. He’s been really good other games this season. Now we have to have that contribution be game-winning, not just close enough.”