Twellman to Revs: Play Nguyen, trade him, or explain why he’s on the bench

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(John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Taylor Twellman, the Revolution's all-time leading scorer and current ESPN analyst, took aim at the team's front office and ownership in regards to the Lee Nguyen situation and what’s happening behind the scenes at Gillette Stadium.

To recap: Nguyen held out during Revs preseason training camp after formally asking the club to trade him at the end of the '17 season, and the Revolution said no. When New England named Brad Friedel as manager last November, Nguyen asked for the transfer again. He eventually ended his holdout and arrived three-plus weeks late for his seventh season here in Foxborough, and in the first six matches of the season, Nguyen hasn't been available for selection in the 18-man squad despite Friedel's prior assurances that the 31-year-old central attacking midfielder is not surplus to his requirements.

“Well, it’s an interesting one,” Twellman told ESPN play-by-play man Adrian Healey during halftime of Sunday’s Sporting Kansas City and Seattle Sounders FC broadcast. “First and foremost, I want to make this clear: I have no problem if Brad Friedel looks at Lee Nguyen and says, ‘He doesn’t fit into my plans.’ Any coach has that (prerogative); it happens all over the world. That’s not an issue.

“There’s two parts to this that are very important: 10 days ago, a team in the Eastern Conference offered $750,000 of allocation money for Lee Nguyen. If (Orlando City SC’s) Justin Meram’s worth a little more than a million, that’s too low for the New England Revolution to pull the plug on that. However, if you look at the asset which is Lee Nguyen, he’s got this year and two (one-) year options. That’s $1.5 million, plus that allocation at minimum of $750,000. That’s an asset of $2.25 million.

“All of that, I’m getting to is this: as an organization, you owe it to the paying customer to do what’s best for the business. Lee Nguyen, not in the 18, playing with the Reserves, making $500,000 a year. That’s not good for business. But in MLS history, it has shown us (that) not this window, which ends May 1, it’s the summer window, Adrian – July and August, where moves are made. I would be shocked if Lee Nguyen is not moved. Otherwise, the Revolution and that front office and that ownership group has to explain to the paying customer, ‘This is best for business,’ that Lee Nguyen — making 500-plus grand — is sitting, training with the Reserves.”

Healey concluded the segment with this: “Too good not to be playing somewhere in MLS, isn’t he in Lee Nguyen? We shall see.”

BSJ analysis

Annnnnnnd the Revs’ dirty laundry, a local talking point until just before 5 p.m. today, is now in the national spotlight. You can bet the mortgage on it: Twellman's 84-second speech will come up during Tuesday's media availability at Gillette. Heck, it might be the first question to Friedel.

Twellman has grown into the role as American soccer’s Voice of Reason. His “What are we doing?!” rant from just after the United States’ failure to qualify for Russia last October has become the thing of legend, and basically solidified his reputation in the eyes of fans as someone unafraid of tearing into the U.S. Soccer Federation and Major League Soccer ownership groups with a fine-tuned scalpel, better known as his tongue.

The point Twellman is making is that New England needs to do one of three things: play him (he pretty much said that’s not happening, and we can draw conclusions with Friedel's comments Saturday night that Nguyen’s tenure on Route 1 is complete:  We can also interpret Twellman's comment regarding him not having a problem with Friedel's plans and not making Nguyen available for selection as a manager's decision, generally accepted at football clubs around the world, but there is belief among Revs supporters in general that someone higher up in the food chain has taken the decision out of Friedel's hands; "It can't just be about fitness," one particular Revs supporter noted on Twitter Sunday), trade him in the summer window, or continue to sit him but that the Krafts, president Brian Bilello, and general manager Michael Burns – or any one of them – need to face the music of the press corps.

Following Saturday's 1-0 defeat to FC Dallas, a reporter asked Friedel if he wished he had Nguyen available for selection, and the manager has seemingly done an about-face. He answered, "No. Diego Fagundez has won the No. 10 role, fair and square. Diego has performed very, very well, and there’s no need in that game – I would never, in a million years, taken off my No. 10 and put on another No. 10. If I wanted to do that, I would have brought Zach Herivaux off the bench and replaced him with Diego." That quote is significant, as it appears Herivaux, who hasn't played significant MLS minutes since August '16, is ahead of Nguyen, who scored 11 goals a year ago, on the Revs' depth chart.

The fact of the offer of allocation money on April 5 by an unknown Eastern Conference rival is interesting. We presume the Revolution front office turned it down, and honestly, we have no problem with that: besides, why would Burns transfer Nguyen and his 51 total goals during his Revs tenure to a team New England has to play twice a year? It also tells every front office in Major League Soccer that if they need a No. 10 – and there are a couple who need one – and with Meram’s wages in mind, it’s going to cost them upwards of a cool million to free up Nguyen's services.

And if no teams want to pony up, we have to ask this: will this mean that the Revolution keeps Nguyen on the outside of the squad looking in for the remaining three years of his deal? This scenario screams of what happened to former Rev Steve Neumann, who retired at age 25 in 2016. Neumann asked for a transfer after he saw his playing time decreased in 2015, was refused, and the Revs then offered him a contract $30,000 less than he was making. Because of MLS contract rules, if he didn’t accept it, he wouldn’t be able to play in the league: the Revs held his rights. He took the deal.

In 2016, he saw his minutes decreased even further. Then he retired. At 25 years old.

If this happens with Nguyen, it should open a lot more eyes to the New England way of doing business.