We’re just six games into the season. So it’s not like any team or any player is completely eliminating themselves from relevance this early. But it is prime time to pick up on signs that something might be wrong and no one is providing more clear-cut signs of problems than Lee Nguyen.
The Texas native has been one of New England Revolution’s key contributors for the past four years, wracking up 31 goals and 19 assists since coming over from the Vietnamese League 1. His massive breakout year came two years ago when he amassed 18 goals, but even last year, he put up a respectable seven goals and eights assists.
As one of the many teams that utilize a 4-2-3-1 formation, New England relies on Nguyen in that No. 10 role to be their primary creator and distributor of the ball. As well as creating chances, he needs to be protecting possession and making the defense uncomfortable. Thus far into the season he has been unable to do that.
There has been a common theme among opposing defenses this year and it all started against the Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo surrendered three goals to the Revolution, but Nguyen had very little part to play. He was dispossessed five times and couldn’t even muster a 70% pass completion.
That’s because at any given moment, you can find either Alex or Ricardo Clark connected at the hip of Nguyen, not allowing him any space.
That theme has continued all the way up until his most recent match up against Toronto. Yet again Nguyen found himself being closed down on incredibly quickly and lost possession four times. He had one clear chance at goal in the first minute, but after that, he disappeared.
Let’s go to the numbers, the best way to tell if somethings up.
With the opposition so obviously closing down on Nguyen incredibly quickly, the numbers should reflect a bit of frustration from Nguyen, namely in possession loss and pass completion. Sure enough, both numbers are a bit off compared to years passed.
After being dispossessed just 1.6 times on average in his first two years. That number jumped to 2.0 last year and all the way up to the whopping 3.6 it’s at this year. The same is true of his poor touches. In his first three years it remained between 1.1-1.4 a match, but this year it has nearly tripled to 3.2.
Looking at his passing accuracy, we see more signs of problems. His pass completion percentage, which was at a solid 80% in his first year, has dropped to 76%. Not the worst of fall-offs. But also consider the fact that he is contributing two more inaccurate short passes per game. He has also yet to make an accurate cross and for the first time in his career, he has more inaccurate corners than accurate.
They may all be small drop-offs (minus the possession loss), but sometimes a lot of small drop offs can be just as concerning as one big drop off (which Nguyen also has).
In terms of shooting, Nguyen is taking just as many shots as ever, only he is taking more shots inside the penalty box than ever before. In fact, three times more than his first year. But the goals aren’t falling.
Obviously we’d like to think that it’s just a matter of time before these things balance out. After all, we just defended Bradley Wright-Phillips and claimed that his negative numbers would level out. However, Wright-Phillips did not have such glaringly negative numbers as Nguyen.
But even then, there is time. He has only played in five matches – 450 minutes – so while Lee Nguyen is giving the New England Revolution a few reasons to be wary, it’s too early to hit the panic button.