If Lee Nguyen makes an appearance for the United States in their friendly against Colombia on Friday, it will be his first at international level in 2688 days, the third longest gap between games in the nation’s history.
Having played three times under Bob Bradley in 2007, Nguyen became something of a journeyman at club level but has now settled with the New England Revolution.
The 28-year-old’s call up to Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad comes off the back of a superb Major League Soccer campaign for the Revs that yielded 18 goals and seven assists in the regular season, averaging 0.82 goal contributions per 90.
The Revs are still in the MLS Cup hunt following their 7-3 aggregate win over the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Semi Final, and they now move on to the Conference Championship where the New York Red Bulls await.
An extremely talented playmaker who has added a glutton of goals to his game, Nguyen was instrumental as the Revs beat Columbus in both legs, finding the net on each occasion.
Indeed, he has now netted in his last six outings for the Revs and is one of the standout candidates for this year’s MLS Most Valuable Player Award.
“I think he’s definitely considered underrated in our league,” said New York Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty earlier this year.
“If he’s playing in Seattle, LA or New York, I think he’s certainly a guy that would’ve been an All-Star this year.”
Born in the US with a Vietnamese background, Nguyen has packed a lot into his professional football career having played at college level for Indiana University where he was named the 2005 National Freshman of the Year.
A spell with Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven yielded just two first team appearances before Nguyen headed for Denmark to join Superliga side Randers FC.
The next stop was Vietnamese side Hoàng Anh Gia Lai, and while contracted to them Nguyen spent some time training in London with Arsenal in 2009.
Just under two years at Becamex Binh Duong followed until Nguyen decided to return to the US, and he was initially allocated to the Vancouver Whitecaps in January 2011.
However, the Canadian side decided to pass on Nguyen, allowing New England to take him with the second overall pick in the MLS Waiver Draft.
Since then, Nguyen has excelled – picking up New England’s MVP Award in both 2012 and 2014, as well as leading the team in scoring this year.
“He’s so skillful and he can do a lot of things technically,” Revs boss Jay Heaps told mlssoccer.com.
“I think when he got here we asked more of him, we wanted him to be a little bit more a little bit more two-way, make sure he defended hard, worked hard on both sides of the ball.
“I think that he didn’t realise how good he is at closing down, or intercepting passes or getting in passing lanes and I think that once he started doing that, I think it kind of brought out a better player.”
After a strong start to the current season, the Revs lost eight games in a row over a two month period to leave many scratching their heads at how things had fallen off the rails so dramatically.
They rallied though, inspired by Nguyen, and finished second in the East behind only DC United.
The Revs and Red Bulls have met twice so far this year with the New Yorkers coming out on top on both occasions – 2-0 in New England back in June and 2-1 at Red Bull Arena at the beginning of August.
Before the sides meet in the playoffs though, Nguyen’s immediate focus is on finally getting a chance to pull on the national team shirt again, and he hoping to make the most of it.
“Any time you can play for your country and represent your country, that’s the highest honour, the highest privilege you can have as a football player,” said Nguyen of his call up.
“I’ve got to go up there and focus on the task at hand and try to prove myself.”
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