After Lee Nguyen’s last appearance for the Revolution in 2017, he expressed dissatisfaction with his salary and requested a trade. Nearly three years later, following stops in Los Angeles and Miami, Nguyen is returning to New England.
Nguyen, 33, the team’s second leading all-time scorer (54 goals in all competitions), was acquired by the Revolution from Inter Miami in exchange for a fourth-round draft choice and $50,000 in allocation money Tuesday.
The Revolution (3-2-5, 14 points) have been seeking to replace Carles Gil (Achilles'), who has played only two games this season and is not expected to return before the postseason. Nguyen’s status for the Revolution’s visit to the Philadelphia Union on Saturday has not been determined, but league protocols require players to sit out for 10 days after changing teams.
From the time Nguyen told the Revolution he wanted out, it took more than six months before he was dealt. He went to LAFC in exchange for $700,000 in allocation money on trade deadline day, May 1, 2018. Nguyen scored four goals in 57 appearances in two seasons for LAFC, coached by Bob Bradley, who gave Nguyen his US national team debut in 2007. Nguyen went to Inter Miami in the expansion draft, performing in five matches this season.
Nguyen initially came to the Revolution after he was waived by the Vancouver Whitecaps before the 2012 season. He became one of the few players the Revolution have signed off the waiver draft. The move paid off as the Revolution built the midfield around Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe (who also returned to the team this season), regaining a playoff spot in 2013 for the first time in four years.
The next year, Nguyen scored 20 goals as the Revolution reached the 2014 MLS Cup, their fifth appearance in the final. Once again, they lost in the final, 2-1 in overtime, to the Arena-coached Los Angeles Galaxy. Nguyen was named among the MVP finalists, along with Robbie Keane (Galaxy), who won the award.
Nguyen joined the league after a lucrative career in Vietnam, receiving $50,000 in his first MLS season. His salary increased to $80,000 in 2013; $193,750 in 2014; then to $500,000 in 2016, according to the MLS Players Association. But MLS’s increasing budgets meant that when Nguyen requested a move in 2017, he was the seventh-highest paid player on the Revolution roster, despite acting as captain and leading the team in assists (15) and scoring 11 goals, trailing only Kei Kamara (12).
Nguyen officially became a holdout once training camp started in January 2018, and once he reported he was subjected to a rigorous workout regime, though there was little chance he would return to the playing field for the Revolution. Meanwhile, the Revolution did not sign a proven attacking midfielder to replace Nguyen until last year, when Gil arrived on loan from Deportivo La Coruña in Spain.
Arena, the Revolution’s sporting director/head coach, added winger Kekuta Manneh and midfielder Tommy McNamara in recent trades, but the attack has struggled without an experienced playmaker. The Revolution’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Sunday marked only the second time this season they have scored more than once in a match.
Nguyen will likely be deployed in a setup role in central midfield, combining with forwards Gustavo Bou, Adam Buksa, and Teal Bunbury, who scored twice against the Fire and leads the team with four goals.
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.