New England Revolution: Is Lee Nguyen actually needed?

FOXBOROUGH, MA - FEBRUARY 27: New England Revolution's Lee Nguyen runs a drill during practice in preparation for the team's season opener in Foxborough, MA on Feb. 27, 2018. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - FEBRUARY 27: New England Revolution's Lee Nguyen runs a drill during practice in preparation for the team's season opener in Foxborough, MA on Feb. 27, 2018. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) /

With so much depth within the New England Revolution, they might actually be better off parting ways with the controversial Lee Nguyen.

One of the most pressing stories early in the season for the New England Revolution has revolved around midfielder Lee Nguyen.

After holding out for much of the preseason, Lee Nguyen begrudgingly made his return to the squad and resumed training immediately. From all accounts, it appears Nguyen is up to match fitness, but is still being excluded from the gameday squad.

It also appears the New England Revolution are entertaining offers for Lee Nguyen from teams like Chicago and Montreal. Although Brad Friedel has a strong desire to keep Nguyen and build his team around him, it seems the Revs can make do without him.

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Now, it’s evident the New England Revolution are a better team with Lee in the midfield. And when Nguyen is hot, the goals come in droves from both him and the team. And it’s not to say that the Revs have no place for Nguyen either. But rather, there is a way to replace Nguyen on the field and in the aggregate.

And that all starts with the Revs three top attacking midfielders – Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe, and Cristian Penilla.

There were some encouraging signs in the Revs victory over Colorado that signal Penilla and Fagundez have developed quite the connection, the biggest one being Diego’s goal. Both Penilla and Diego displayed incredible pace, generating a scoring chance even when the numbers weren’t in New England’s favor. This creativity and clinical ability is valuable for a team still searching for an identity under a new coach.


Penilla, Rowe, and Fagundez are extremely versatile, allowing the Revs to field a tactically diverse lineup at all times. The New England Revolution could start the trio in any capacity around the midfield and would still get a solid effort out of everyone. This differs from utilizing Lee Nguyen, who was only at his best in a central midfield role. Though the Revs tried him on the wing, Nguyen has been more successful in the middle during his career.

Kelyn Rowe spent time at almost every position last year while Fagundez alternated between different midfield roles. While Penilla has only played one game with New England, he came advertised as a verstatile attacking midfielder. Penilla is already one of the fastest players on the team, giving him the ability to play the demanding central midfield role as well as on either wing.

Much like Lee Nguyen in his New England tenure, Penilla has already showcased his off-ball movement. Fagundez and Rowe also moves well without the ball, setting up runs and drawing defenders away from the play.

In an ideal scenario, the Revolution lineup would feature just two of the three. Nemeth would cover the left wing with Fagundez occupying the middle and Penilla on the right.

New Philosophy

(Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) /

With a new coach in charge, the Revolution are looking for young players to buy into the new philosophy of the club. Nguyen has made it clear that he does not want to be a part of this Revolution team by requesting a trade.

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Nguyen, a player who was supposed to be a leader and captain, has become a locker room cancer. At age 31, it appears Nguyen’s best years are also behind him. After his career year in 2014 in which he scored 18 goals, Nguyen’s stats plummeted over the next two years. Last season saw a rebound for Lee, with 11 goals and 15 assists.

If Nguyen is welcomed back, the likelihood he puts up numbers like that again is slim. One can’t expect a player who doesn’t buy into the philosophy of a club or coach to play his best. Nguyen already gave up on Brad Friedel and even though he has rejoined the team, it was reluctant and he is still looking for a way out.

The Revs have younger, equally creative players who do buy into the new tactics and style. With players like Fagundez, Penilla, and Rowe entering the prime of their careers, it almost seems superfluous to hold onto Nguyen.

External Replacements

The Revolution are also ready to bring in reinforcements if they successfully unload Nguyen. New England has been linked with Luca de la Torre from English club Fulham. The 19-year-old attacking midfielder spent time under Friedel with the U.S. U-20 National Team.

De la Torre has match experience with Fulham though his minutes have been limited this season. One of de la Torre’s trademark traits is his distribution and passing accuracy, with the youngster not prone to frequent turnovers. Although he is so young, he can still be a positive influence on a Revolution team lacking that bit of attacking flare.

With talk of Friedel possibly looking to bring in a DP during the summer window, it would be best to unload Nguyen’s salary. However, unlike with Kei Kamara, the Revolution shouldn’t look to offload Nguyen in a salary dump trade. Rather, New England should look to maximize value for a declining player coming off a career year.

Will the Revs miss Nguyen’s veteran presence and playmaking? Of course. It’s tough to remove a player who has been such a crucial part of the club’s attacking scheme for so many seasons. But sometimes, it’s just time to say goodbye. It was a great run in New England for Nguyen, but he is clearly ready to move on in his career.

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And with all the reinforcements and additions Friedel has added, it appears the Revs are ready to move on as well.