Foxborough, Mass. — Lee Nguyen was banging on the proverbial door to escape when, after a six-month contract dispute, the New England Revolution relented and traded him to Los Angeles FC for $700,000 in May 2018.
Just over two years later, Nguyen is not only now back in New England, but excited to return.
“I have a lot of love for this club, and I always have, even when I left,” Nguyen told media Thursday, two days after the Revolution re-acquired him from Inter Miami CF.
“I never lost love with this club. When I had a chance to come back and [head coach/sporting director Bruce Arena] said I could be a big help to this team, I was thrilled and excited. I want to try to finish what we started here, and that’s to win a cup.”
Bruce Arena: We needed a playmaker
Nguyen came off a season in which he was captain, leading scorer and leading assist man for the Revolution when he requested a trade to former general manager Mike Burns in 2017. For Nguyen, who at the time was the team’s seventh highest-paid player, the desire to move was based solely a salary dispute.
Even so, Burns waited six months to trade Nguyen, who didn’t feature in a competitive game with New England from the time he first requested a trade to when it was granted.
Nguyen, 33, went on to appear in 48 games for LAFC, scoring three goals and helping the club with the 2019 Supporters Shield. In the offseason he joined Miami, where he played in only five games, none of them starts, and wasn’t in head coach Diego Alonso’s long term plans.
“I think people in Miami understood his situation and wanted to be helpful,” Arena said Thursday. “His agent reached out to us a week or two ago. Fortunately we were able to piece together a deal.
“He’s been a good player in this league. I still think he has enough in the tank to help our roster. When I was in LA I saw him play with LAFC and thought he was a very good player and still think he is. He has a history of scoring goals and we need a playmaker.”
Spanish midfielder Carles Gil, the engine behind New England’s attack last season, is currently out with a foot injury through the regular season.
Nguyen is who Gil replaced, and now Nguyen is back for what amounts to little in assets. The Revolution gave Miami a fourth round draft pick in 2021 and up to $50,000 in allocation money if Nguyen meets certain performance incentives.
— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) September 9, 2020
Lee Nguyen: Revolution have everything it takes to win a Cup
Nguyen drove to New England from Fort Lauderdale this week and is eligible to play in Saturday’s game away at the Philadelphia Union. That said, his fitness and the team’s tactics will play the biggest roles in deciding where he fits on the field.
“I spoke to Bruce yesterday, he thinks I can help and so do I,” Nguyen said. “And I really think this team has pretty much everything to win a cup. I can help compliment the team in different ways, whether that’s at 10 or 8. Everyone has seen my game. I can help facilitate and give chances to guys up top, and I can also keep composure, keep possession and help fluidity in our attack.
“I think Bruce knew before he traded for me what I could bring to this team. When Carles is healthy, that’ll be great. It’ll be great to play with a player with his skill set.”
Nguyen is the third Revolution player to re-sign with the team under Arena after departing the club earlier in their careers, joining defender Seth Sinovic and midfielder Kelyn Rowe. Nguyen said he’s connected with Scott Caldwell, Andrew Farrell and Toni Delamea since returning and is happy to be back in familiar surroundings.
“It was bittersweet, how it ended,” Nguyen said. “My favorite memories were in 2014 when we made that run to the cup final and we were so close. That right there was probably one of my favorite years ever.
“When Bruce said ‘we could use you’ I jumped at the idea. I have a lot left in the tank to give and I want to bring this cup to New England.”