The subject: Lee Nguyen joined MLS in 2012 after spells in Denmark, the Netherlands and Vietnam. After a brief stopover in Vancouver, Nguyen found a permanent home with the Revolution. His influence on the ball and his intricate work in tight spaces over the past season and a half has played a large part in the Revs’ return to prominence.
Inside MLS spoke with Nguyen earlier this week about his time in New England and the reasons behind the club’s recent success.
Philadelphia coach John Hackworth said you were “playing as good as anybody in the league” after the 5-3 victory over the Union at PPL Park a couple of weeks ago. What does that comment say about you and the team at this point?
Nguyen:“I think it just goes to show how well the team has been playing, really. We’re putting a lot of wins together. We’re creating a lot of buzz right now. People are starting to see the New England Revolution and respect us a little bit more now.”
What has changed to inspire the sort of performances this team has put together over the past few weeks? The victory over D.C. United last weekend made it five wins in a row and seven straight matches without a defeat.
Nguyen: “We have a good group of core guys together here. We’ve been playing together since last season. You saw this form toward the end of last season and into the playoffs. Now we’ve just been able to pick it up and put it a notch higher than it was at the beginning of the season. Now we just need to keep that momentum going.”
How important has Patrick Mullins proven to occupy the central defenders and provide space for you to work underneath?
Nguyen: “He’s done a great job offensively, holding off a couple of big center backs in the past few games. He’s been doing really well. He’s also getting goals for us, which always helps. On top of that, he’s done tremendously for us defensively. He’s occupying those two and trying to close them down.”
How does this group transition so quickly from keeping that tight defensive shape to creating those quick combinations between the lines?
Nguyen:“It has a lot to do with Jay (Heaps, Revolution coach) nailing it into us in training, trying to keep our positions and then, when we turn it over, running it down quickly. A lot of our goals came from that last season. On top of that, we have a lot of guys that can change the game offensively at any time.”
It always looks like possession with purpose. You’re not keeping it to keep it. You’re trying to play quickly and get the ball into good areas.
Nguyen: “That’s definitely the motto, possession with purpose. At the same time, we have guys in possession who can go off the dribble, who can change the game or who can turn and shoot the ball from distance. It helps to have guys who can keep possession of the ball in midfield. Also, our wingers and our strikers can punish them when we have to.”
How does that variety and the constant movement in the attacking half help you as you’re trying to pick apart defenses?
Nguyen: “It’s great because when we’re playing like that, it’s hard for midfielders to track the runners and for the backs to pick up who is going where. When Teal (Bunbury) or Diego (Fagundez) drops into the middle and we go up top, it’s hard for them to interchange during the game like that.”
What is the key to sustaining this rhythm through the rest of the season?
Nguyen: “Our end game is always going to be the same: we obviously want to make it to the playoffs and try to win the championship. We know the main thing is to keep ourselves going. We can’t take our feet off the pedal. We watched teams last year who were at the top of the leaderboard and then they fell out of the playoffs at the end. We have to stay hungry.”