It’s no secret that I’ve been a long time admirer of Richardson native, Lee Nguyen. Nguyen also seemed like the player that “got away”. Had he been born 10 years later, he would’ve been in the FC Dallas Academy system. He still may have left for Europe, but the feeling is, he should’ve at the very least been an Academy alum of some sorts. Then when Nguyen made his way back to MLS, it’s been rumored that FCD was his preferred landing spot but because this is MLS, Lee landed in Vancouver before being cut and then got picked up by the New England Revolution.
Dallas has a great chance to reload and refresh their roster this off-season and here’s why Oscar Pareja and Fernando Clavijo should make a move for Lee Nguyen this winter.
Pareja likes to have a few players on his side that can play multiple positions, like Ryan Hollingshead, Tesho Akindele, Atiba Harris and Maynor Figueroa. This personnel approach has its advantages and disadvantages, but Pareja has made it work for most of his coaching career. Nguyen can actually play, to some degree of success, across all attacking positions and most midfield positions. The only position he hasn’t featured in the midfield is defensive mid, barring that one, he’s played them all.
Nguyen, of course, is at his best as a #10 - creating offensive chances for his team with his vision, passing skills, dribbling ability and his nose for goal. That raises the question, “What about Mauro Diaz?” and I’ll get to that soon.
This Dallas side struggled mightily during the second half of the season in their offense. Since the Gold Cup break, Dallas finished the season scoring a measly 18 goals in 16 games. That number is even more terrifying when you remember that 5 of those goals came from the end of the year drubbing of the LA Galaxy. In short, Dallas needs offensive help and Nguyen can provide that.
The biggest issue with Mauro Diaz has been his health. Just compare the past four seasons between Diaz and Nguyen in terms of their games and minutes played.
Diaz vs Nguyen Minutes
At this stage, we’re still not sure if Mauro Diaz is 100% or if he’ll ever get back to 100% prior to that Achilles injury from over a year ago. We saw glimpses of him recapturing that 2016 form, but with his track record, we can assume that Diaz will probably miss a stretch of games again in 2018.
Nguyen has not missed much in the last four years. In fact, Nguyen has almost doubled the minutes Diaz has played during that same stretch. Dallas has tried with short-term stopgap solutions in the last two seasons for getting a Mauro Diaz back up in Mauro Rosales and Javier Morales, and those have kind of worked to some degree. Rosales is gone and Morales is likely out too, which leaves Dallas with an opening. Nguyen would slot in nicely as the teams’ #10 and sometimes even better than Diaz.
Unless you’re new to this league, you’re already familiar with what Nguyen brings to the table offensively. I am cherry picking a bit, but here are some chalkboards and gifs of what we can expect from the Vietnamese American playmaker.
The point of these chalkboards is to give you a snapshot at Nguyen’s versatility in the offense; whether coming off the bench, playing as the primary playmaker or even playing tucked under Kei Kamara as a second striker. In essence, Nguyen can play anywhere and still do the job.
Just take a look at the way he times his run to lose his mark, receive, turn and find Kamara for the goal. Lee makes it look too easy.
He’s not just the giver of goals, he also provides some of his own. Take a look at this gorgeously struck volley.
We know Diaz’s free kick game has disappeared and while Kellyn Acosta’s gotten better, he still suffers from consistency. Why not add a player who can also do this?
The other advantage of having Nguyen is that he doesn’t disappear from games. His longest stretch in 2017 without a goal or assist was three games. Maxi Urruti’s longest stretch without a goal or assist? Ten games to end the season.
This the one where most people seem to ask or get hung up on. “What do you do with Diaz?” My answer, to a degree of tongue in cheek, has been:
But in all seriousness, I think it’s possible for Dallas to get both Diaz and Nguyen on the field at the same time. My solution? The Christmas Tree formation.
The idea here is to allow both Diaz and Nguyen to sit under Urruti and support him on the attack. This leaves the midfield anchored by a “destroyer” in Carlos Gruezo who will be the team’s ball winner and has the freedom to press aggressively, a “tactical supporter” in Acosta who will weave himself between the defense and offense as necessary and a “deep-lying playmaker” in Ulloa.
Just in case you’re doubting Ulloa’s passing range and abilities, here’s a reminder of what he can do.
Width will be provided by the fullbacks in Ryan Hollingshead and Reggie Cannon on their respective flanks.
This obviously means that Michael Barrios would be sacrificed to make this work, which is a tough pill to swallow given how productive he was. If benching Barrios isn’t your cup of tea, then Dallas can go with the 4-1-3-2 as well.
Either way, adding a player like Nguyen creates offensive options that this team badly needed down the stretch. Dallas and Oscar Pareja didn’t seem to figure things out this year with league newcomers in Cristian Colman and Roland Lamah. Why not bring home a player who not only knows this league but was a recent league MVP finalist?
Dallas has had several false starts getting Lee back to Dallas, but it’s time. It’s time to #BringLeeHome