FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Brad Friedel hasn’t yet named his traveling squad for the New England Revolution’s 2018 opener Saturday against the Philadelphia Union (7 pm ET). But there appears to be no rush to include Lee Nguyen.
Speaking to MLSsoccer.com at Wednesday’s training session, the Revs coach said they’re taking it “day by day,” and that Nguyen came into camp three-and-a-half weeks behind the group fitness-wise.
To get up to speed, the 31-year-old midfielder has often worked separately from team drills with head of fitness Anton McElhone, following a prolonged preseason holdout after an offseason request to be traded within Major League Soccer. Friedel said Nguyen has been tasked with meeting certain “fitness numbers.”
“This isn’t a punishment scenario, it’s a fitness scenario,” Friedel said. “But when a player misses so much training, you have to get him up to speed. Once he’s in with the group, it’s entirely up to Lee with how he applies himself and adapts to our way of training and our style of play.”
Still, there’s the question of how Nguyen’s holdout will affect the locker room, especially so early into Friedel’s tenure. For striker Juan Agudelo, who’s now played four seasons with the Dallas, Texas native, matters aren’t cut-and-dry.
“Lee is always going to be my friend no matter what,” Agudelo said to MLSsoccer.com. “As my teammate, he’s come back – nobody outside knows what really is going on with Lee’s situation. Everyone wants to say things that they know or think that’s going on, but I don’t even know exactly. Whatever he has going on, it’s not too much of my business.”
Antonio Delamea told MLSsoccer.com that the situation hasn’t impacted the Revs’ locker room much, and that’s there’s no time to think about “outside noise.”
Statistically speaking, Nguyen factored directly into nearly 50 percent of New England’s scoring in 2017, bagging 11 goals and 15 assists. To soften that blow, his fellow midfielder Kelyn Rowe told MLSsoccer.com that the Revs must focus on taking care of business in the attacking third.
The Revs will likely turn to a platoon approach from Agudelo, Rowe, Krisztian Nemeth, Teal Bunbury, new signing Cristian Penilla and Diego Fagundez, who Friedel said he thinks has thrived in Nguyen’s typical No. 10 role.
“I’ve said this to Lee: There are players where if we’re on the field, we’re going to be soccer players,” Rowe said. “When you’re off the field, you’re going to go about business and take care of yourself. That has nothing to do with us. He’s going to take care of his business and we’re going to take care of ours. Whether he’s on the field or not, we’re going to play as a team.”