Lee Nguyen was ‘one of the winners’ of the January camp, U.S. MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after Sunday’s 3-2 win over Iceland.
“He was really prepared for this camp,” Klinsmann said of Nguyen. “From day one he set the tone. He said, ‘OK I was here last year, and I didn’t make the impression that I wanted to make, so I better make it right now.’ So he was unquestionably in the starting lineup after a week.”
Nguyen was handed his first career start after coming off the bench in his previous seven appearances with the MNT. Initially playing left midfield – though allowed to pinch in – Nguyen was moved higher on the field for the second half. He appeared to be just as comfortable connecting with teammates in either role.
“Being in camp for the past two years, I was able to start to get comfortable with the guys around me now – they start to know my tendencies,” said the McKinney, Texas native. “And I think you starting to see they’re more comfortable finding me in those gaps for me if I can interlink the play between the midfield and the forwards.”
Klinsmann said the reason for the shift was because he wanted someone to try to find space between Iceland’s four-man backline and midfield, which was dropping back and making spaces tight.
“If you get into these areas, you need a player that is very skillful, [makes] easy turns, easy to connect people,” Klinsmann said. “And that’s why we moved Gyasi (Zardes) out and made (Nguyen) the connector further up, so that maybe Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones could find him, and then he finds Jozy, and so on.
“So he played this connector role in the second half, and he loves to do that, because obviously he’s higher up the field, and we know that he can score as well. If he gets in shooting position we know that Lee has a tremendous shot, which he shows in New England.”
In four years with the New England Revolution, Nguyen, 29, has scored 34 goals and added 24 assists, mostly playing in a similar advanced midfielder role.
“I like playing either or because both ways I get to tuck in and find the game,” he said. “But obviously, I’ve played most of my games with the Revs underneath, so obviously I’m comfortable there. But at the same time it’s easy to play on the side, too.”
Whether more central or higher up, Nguyen is clearly making his case with the MNT.
“After three weeks of training, he’s definitely one of the winners of this period,” Klinsmann added.