It finally happened.
Late Wednesday night, with the close of the Primary Transfer Window looming, the New England Revolution traded midfielder Lee Nguyen to LAFC. The deal starts at $700,000 in allocation money – $350,000 in GAM and $350,000 in TAM – and could move up to $950,000 and a high SuperDraft pick if certain considerations are met.
The Nguyen saga dragged on longer than anyone expected. Since returning from his three-week holdout during training camp, the attacking midfielder hadn’t been named to Brad Friedel’s 18-man gameday roster for any of the Revs’ eight matches this year.
Reports surfaced last week that a team, later identified as the Chicago Fire, had offered $750,000 for Nguyen, which New England rejected. The Revs wanted more money for a top-of-the-line asset; the Fire knew Lee wasn’t in the Revs plans and figured it was only a matter of time. It was a glorious yet also somewhat annoying game of chicken.
Until LAFC swooped in at the final hour.
ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle reported that the Revs had received better offers from within the Eastern Conference, but were hesitant to trade Nguyen to an intra-conference competitor.
The reasons for the Revs trading Nguyen are clear at this point. Nguyen didn’t want to be in New England; Revs head coach Brad Friedel doesn’t want players who aren’t fully committed to the cause. Friedel has also implement a more aggressive defensive pressing scheme that he may have felt Nguyen didn’t fit as well into as other players on the roster.
In keeping Nguyen on the bench and then trading him for assets, Friedel accomplished two things. First, he received a decent chunk of change for a player he might not have rated that highly anyway. Second, Friedel got to make a statement to his players that he’s the big man on campus and he’s not scared of anyone, even a star player and face of the franchise; either you do everything the manager asks, or you’re out.
If you watch the Revs this year, it looks like it’s working. They play with a unique sense of discipline and urgency. A lot of people questioned the team’s decision to take so long to deal Nguyen, but if social capital is a currency, they probably made extra money on the deal.
It always felt like a matter of time before the Revs moved Nguyen, but few expected LAFC to be the recipient.
Nguyen's role in LA
LAFC have always known they would have to deal with key players leaving for the World Cup this summer. Ureña, will undego surgery for facial fractures on Friday that will put him on the injured list for at least a month, will depart with Costa Rica if he's able to return from his injury in time. Carlos Vela will likely go with Mexico and Laurent Ciman is a leading candidate to be called by Belgium.
Vela, in particular, might be the biggest loss. Given Mexico’s World Cup schedule, he could miss at least five games, and probably more if Mexico advance or Vela takes a few days off to recover post-tournament. LAFC will be a different team without those players on the field.
Aside from the Nguyen trade, there’s other big news out of LAFC that impacts how they will look moving forward.
On Wednesday, they announced the signing of striker Adama Diomande. Diomande played for Bradley at Stabaek in Norway. Diomande fills a second big hole LAFC previously had: cover for Ureña up top. Prior to Diomande’s signing, LAFC didn’t have an established replacement for Ureña.
The Norwegian is a relative unknown to many Americans, but I had the chance to watch him in Norway and he was very, very good. He’s strong enough to hold up the ball, fast enough to attack the channels, quick enough to beat players and sharp around the box. Ureña has been excellent for LAFC, helping the team in unheralded ways, but the Costa Rican has yet to score.
If Bradley decides he wants something different, Diomande is a good option to have. In the last 24 hours, LAFC have answered the two biggest questions surrounding their future success. They increased their depth to cope with the inevitable losses during the World Cup and injuries throughout the season, and they have a second option at striker. If teams weren’t already worried about LAFC, they should be now.
To look forward a couple months, it’ll be interesting to see how Bradley uses his new options. For the first seven games of the season, he didn’t have many lineup choices to make, he had a couple options but the starting XI mostly picked itself. After the World Cup, once everyone returns and midfielder Andre Horta arrives from Portugal, Bradley will have tough choices on his hands.
Horta, the Portuguese first division’s Midfielder of the Month for March, can play multiple positions but he’s best in an attacking role. Bradley will have four "star" players – Horta, Vela, Rossi and Nguyen – for three spots. It’s conceivable that Bradley changes formations and puts all of Benny Feilhaber, Nguyen, Vela, Horta, Rossi and either Ureña or Diomande on the field together. Nguyen and Feilhaber could be the two deepest midfielders. Wrap your head around that for a second. I’m not at all sure how it would work tactically, but it’d be awesome to watch.
Here’s what I do know: Bradley doesn’t care about formations. He cares about principles. For example, he cares less about whether he fields two strikers or one striker or zero strikers, as long as someone runs beyond the defense to stretch the game. Whoever plays defensive mid will not be told to "go play d-mid," he will be told to "connect passes and close down players quickly."
It’s hard to know what decisions Bradley will make, since he’s the only one who really knows the principles that are most important to him and his vision of the team.
For now, it’s nice to see Lee Nguyen set free. It appears everyone wins. Except LAFC's foes in the Western Conference.