Since midfielder Lee Nguyen joined the Revolution in 2012, he has been responsible, largely, for taking the team’s penalty kicks.
He took one of the team’s two kicks in 2012 and was successful. Last season, he took three of the team’s five kicks and converted two of them.
This year, the Revolution are taking kicks from the 12-yard penalty marker more than usual. In nine games, they already have had three attempts. To little surprise, Nguyen has been called upon in each of the situations and has delivered.
In each of the team’s last three games, Nguyen has scored on a penalty kick, powering the Revolution during a four-game unbeaten streak that has vaulted them into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Nguyen’s latest strike came in the 82d minute of Saturday’s game against Toronto, boosting the Revolution (4-3-2) to a 2-1 victory and giving the team 14 points on the season.
“It’s been something that we’ve had more often this season than last season,” Nguyen said. “But it’s something that you train, practice during the season. You don’t know when it’s going to come, but you always have to be ready for it.”
Just a week earlier, in a home game against Sporting Kansas City, Nguyen scored on a penalty kick in stoppage time to ensure a 2-0 win.
Two weeks earlier, Nguyen’s first penalty kick of the season came in the 29th minute against Chicago, when he tied the game at 1.
Taking penalty kicks is equal parts skill and guessing which direction the goalkeeper is going to defend.
In the win against Toronto, goalkeeper Julio Cesar dived low and to his right, and Nguyen sent his kick toward the top left corner for the easy score.
Against Sporting KC, goalkeeper Eric Kronberg held his ground at the center of the goal line and Nguyen planted a shot to the low right corner.
“It’s definitely a mind game,” Nguyen said. “It gets a little bit more mental with the more PKs I’m taking. The goalkeepers have seen me take a couple already, so I’ll have to keep them guessing and not be predictable.”
Nguyen, in his third season with the Revolution, leads the team with four goals, but his contributions are not limited to the score sheet.
As a midfielder, he holds responsibilities in both the offensive and defensive ends of the pitch. But he’s at his best when he’s tucked in with the forwards and pushing the play into the offensive zone.
The Revolution started the season with a 4-0 loss to Houston and went three games without scoring a goal (0-2-1). Since then, the goals have started to flow and the defense has been playing more cohesively, which has allowed Nguyen more freedom to creep into the attacking zone.
When Nguyen pushes the ball to the forwards, he does so knowing that midfielders Andy Dorman and Daigo Kobayashi are there to hold strong in the defensive end.
“Defensively we’ve gotten more stronger and it’s harder for teams to break us down,” Nguyen said. “It gives us more chances.
“With Andy Dorman behind me, it relieves a lot of pressure and gives me the freedom to attack. Daigo gives me the support to run and play off of him. That midfield triangle has been growing and those two guys have helped.”
In March, when the Revolution were still searching for their first win, it was Nguyen who delivered.
With his team in a 1-1 tie with San Jose, Nguyen fielded a long pass from Scott Caldwell and beat Jon Busch in the 93d minute to cement a win.
The Revolution lost the next game to D.C. United, 2-0, but then beat Houston, 2-0, to spark their current unbeaten streak.
“[San Jose] that was the turning point for us,” Nguyen said. “We hadn’t been able to get a goal and that basically opened the shell right there.”
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Revolution forward Jerry Bengtson — the leading goal-scorer in CONCACAF during World Cup qualifying — has been called up for Honduras’s three pre-World Cup friendlies and is on the country’s preliminary Cup roster.
The World Cup begins next month in Brazil.