LOS ANGELES — After seven productive years with the New England Revolution, Lee Nguyen found himself playing more video games than soccer ahead of the 2018 season.
Gaming, at least, kept his mind from going to “some scary places.”
Nguyen said he was at his “lowest low” before the Los Angeles Football Club traded allocation money for the 31-year-old from McKinney, Texas.
“When we got him here he was excited for the opportunity,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “You had a sense that he didn’t feel good about the way it all ended.”
Months later, the midfielder – ranked second in Revolution history in goals (51), assists (49), shots (398) and shots on target (163) – said his departure from New England still “feels fresh.”
Over the last four seasons, Nguyen’s 82 combined goals and assists ranked fifth in MLS. He knew he could still play, and LAFC’s coaches and talent evaluators felt the same.
Like the other attackers who joined LAFC, Nguyen had to find his bearing in Bradley’s ambitious system that requires position players to react and defend as intensely as they attack.
The key, the “different mental switch,” Nguyen called it, also required an elevated level of fitness.
Said Nguyen: “Honestly, since I’ve been here, I’ve grown more as a player than I obviously thought I would, especially coming here and thinking I was going to play the same position, maybe expecting what I was going to do in New England, but I totally transformed into a new player for sure.”
Since joining LAFC at the close of the transfer window on May 1, 14 of Nguyen’s 18 appearances have been starts. In doing so, Nguyen made himself a regular on Bradley’s first team, joining Benny Feilhaber, who began his MLS career with New England in 2011, alongside a rotation of players.
“I don’t think it gets recognized in the game enough, but the midfield three, the way we rotate, it’s a thing of beauty that I wasn’t used to playing in New England.”
As the midfield goes, so does LAFC (13-7-7, 46 points).
Opposing teams have attempted to chop down a team that has 54 goals, and New England (8-10-9, 33 points) intends to do the same.
Conceding 42 goals, half from transitions following lost balls in the midfield, New England head coach Brad Friedel called LAFC a “team that can definitely be hurt defensively.”
New England’s 1-0 win on Sept. 5 at NYCFC – its first successful attempt at taking three points since a home triumph over D.C. United on June 30 – put the Revs within striking distance of the playoff line in the Eastern Conference.
They will meet an on-form Nguyen, whose game-winning goals in two of LAFC’s last three MLS matches (a whirling beauty against Colorado and a slick finish off a pass from Carlos Vela at Toronto on Sept. 1) have him and his teammates feeling excited to play.
During the two weeks since their victory in Toronto, LAFC’s training had a “good edge,” Bradley said.
Nguyen, with his old team in his sights, will feel that more than most on Saturday.
“It’s not a day,” Bradley warned, “where all of a sudden you’re out on your own trying everything to make a point.”
Nguyen, of course, is shooting for three points to keep pace for the top two spots in the Western Conference.
“That makes the statement I want to make,” he said. “I’m in a great place.”
LAFC vs. NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Banc of California Stadium
TV: YouTube TV, UniMas
Radio: 710 AM, 980 AM
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