At long last, Lee Nguyen’s six-month old transfer request has been fulfilled: the New England Revolution traded the playmaker to Los Angeles FC just before Major League Soccer’s transfer deadline in a blockbuster deal.
LAFC dealt $350,000 in general allocation money, $350,000 in targeted allocation money, plus an additional $250,000 in conditional funds and a conditional first-round pick in either the 2019 or 2019 MLS SuperDraft to the Revolution to secure the player.
Nguyen didn’t even make the bench for the Revolution (4-2-2, 14 points) through the team’s first eight games, leading many to question why the club would retain a player of such value and reportedly turn down offer after offer.
But New England finally relented, granting Nguyen his desired switch.
Here are the key stakeholders affected by Nguyen’s trade to LAFC:
Let’s start with Nguyen.
In 2017, Nguyen accrued 11 goals and 15 assists and was one of the top chance creators in the league. Nguyen was in peak form and greatly helped the Revs pick up victories throughout the season, though the club ultimately fell short of making the playoffs due to their defensive record and poor road form.
Overall, Nguyen has been one of the top players in Revolution history. He was instrumental in getting the team to the 2014 MLS Cup and produced 51 goals and 49 assists in 191 appearances.
But Nguyen has never been one for the status quo. In 2015, he sat out of practice over a salary dispute; the Revolution accommodated Nguyen’s salary, upping it to $500,000 the ensuing off-season, but Nguyen reportedly sought more as he continued to contribute to the club in meaningful ways in 2016 and 2017.
This, plus a desire to move on after six seasons with the same club, culminated in Nguyen’s transfer request.
Nguyen gets almost everything he wants out of this trade. He gets to leave New England for Los Angeles, a top-three American sports media market with an emerging soccer club.
LAFC is in its inaugural season, but is already somewhat of a success story for the league: the club just opened a beautiful new soccer-specific stadium, has a proven coach in former United States national team manager Bob Bradley and has a deep, diverse and talented roster that also includes designated players Andre Horta, Diego Rossi, and Carlos Vela.
Nguyen will likely have a chance to restructure his contract at the end of this season as well, a source told Pro Soccer USA.
New England’s front office
The Revolution front office just got an amazing deal for a 31-year-old player – that is, if it makes use of the cash.
At minimum, the Revs are coming away with $700,000 and get to free up most of Nguyen’s $500,000 cap hit (approximation of Nguyen’s salary, from the MLS Players Union).
That means the club can add some more talent when the transfer window reopens in July. New England has plenty of needs. The back line hasn’t been convincing despite three clean sheets to start the season. Nguyen was a playmaker – so maybe there’s an attacking midfielder that can push Cristian Penilla and Diego Fagundez in training.
Who knows, maybe the Revs even get lucky on a first-round draft pick within the next two years, assuming they end up with LAFC’s natural selection.
Beyond that, New England moved an unhappy player and sent him to an out-of-conference team. Nguyen was professional and kept his public remarks about the club to a minimum, but his situation was the elephant on the roster.
Now, everyone in Foxborough can move on.
Revolution head coach Brad Friedel made Diego Fagundez the new No. 10 to start the season and so far the 23-year old has run with the opportunity.
Fagundez has three goals and an assist. That said, he’s arguably the club’s streakiest player and has a tendency to fall off as a key contributor for huge stretches in a season. How Fagundez reacts to Nguyen’s departure will be interesting. Nguyen may not have been making the bench, but he was nevertheless penciled in – albeit at the bottom – on the Revs’ depth chart.
It’s conceivable that the Revolution move to acquire another player this summer to back up or compete with Fagundez for playing time.
Benny Feilhaber and Lee Nguyen are reunited.
But is Feilhaber happy about it?
The two played together in New England in 2012, during arguably the worst part of Feilhaber’s career. He recorded just one goal and two assists in 29 appearances during that time.
Feilhaber never seemed to truly fit in with the Revolution. There were a number of reasons for this, but one that’s often overlooked is that both he and Nguyen were used in similar roles.
Granted, it was 2012, but Nguyen and Feilhaber crossed wires a lot in then-head coach Jay Heaps’ hybrid 4-3-3 formation. Feilhaber was traded to Sporting Kansas City the next offseason and moved on to LAFC at the end of 2017. With LAFC, Feilhaber has been used as a deep-lying midfielder who joins in the attack. He has two goals and one assist so far in 2018.
Bradley will have to be mindful of how Nguyen and Feilhaber pair on the field, assuming Nguyen slots into the lineup immediately.
Los Angeles FC
You can’t forget, as a whole, the team Nguyen is joining.
Nguyen may be at the tail end of his peak performance years, but he’s still a worthy contributor to any MLS team. He hasn’t played a competitive game this year, but has been training with New England every day and should be close to fully fit.
LAFC are getting a dynamic, attacking player with prime dribbling skills. Nguyen has vision, excellent abilities in combining with teammates in the attacking third and a nose for the goal around the penalty area. He is the latest capable attacking player to join LAFC’s ranks. Assuming Bradley finds a way to maximize Nguyen’s skills – the relationship with Feilhaber on the pitch really is a challenge Bradley needs to decipher – LAFC will probably have the most fearsome attack in the entire league.