The Lee Nguyen saga has come to a close.
Following three months of a protracted holdout, speculation, and conjecture about the midfielder’s status in the squad, the Revolution sent Nguyen to Los Angeles Football Club before the 1 a.m. ET close of the primary transfer window.
New England received $700,000 in allocation money in exchange for Nguyen, who scored 51 goals for the Revs in six seasons. The compensation could rise to $950,000 if certain conditions are met, and the Revolution could also receive LAFC’s natural first-round SuperDraft selection in one of the next two seasons.
The conditions, as first reported by ESPNFC's Jeff Carlisle through league sources (BSJ confirmed them with the club Wednesday morning), break down as follows:
- If LAFC trades Nguyen during the secondary transfer window, New England would receive $100,000 in allocation money as well as a draft pick in either '19 or '20.
- If LAFC signs Nguyen for more money before his current contract expires, New England would receive $150,000 in allocation money.
Of the guaranteed $700,000, $350,000 is in General Allocation Money, and $350,000 in Targeted Allocation Money.
In a statement early Wednesday morning, Revolution general manager Michael Burns said, “On behalf of the club, I'd like to thank Lee for his years of service. Every decision is made in the best interest of the club, and we feel this move helps strengthen our team now and puts us in the best position to succeed in years to come."
An email to Nguyen’s agent, Rich Motzkin, has not yet been returned.
Nguyen, 31, came to Route 1 in 2012 as a Waiver Draft selection from the Vancouver Whitecaps. In his first season, he scored five goals and notched two assists. Two years later, Nguyen had a break-out year for New England, as he scored 18 goals to help lead the Revs to the Eastern Conference championship and their fifth appearance in the MLS Cup Final. He was the Team MVP in ’14, and was a finalist for the Major League Soccer MVP award that year.
His ‘15 and ‘16 seasons saw him set up more goals than he scored (seven goals, 10 assists in ’15, six goals and 10 assists in ’16); in ’17, Nguyen scored 11 goals and had 15 assists.
He became only the second Revolution player all-time to record over 40 goals and 40 assists for the club; the other was Steve Ralston. To go along with his 51 goals, Nguyen helped on 49 others; his transfer means that Leominster resident Diego Fagundez is currently the club’s active scoring leader at 44 goals to go along with 33 assists.
But after the ’17 season ended, Nguyen requested a transfer out of New England, despite having three years -- the ’18 season, plus options for the ’19 and ’20 seasons -- remaining on what was his second contract with the club. The Revs refused. He would ask again after New England hired new manager Brad Friedel, and was similarly rebuffed.
He did not report to pre-season training on time in January, but ended his three-and-a-half week holdout on February 9.
When the regular season began on March 3 in Philadelphia, Friedel left Nguyen out of his 18-man matchday squad against the Union, citing the midfielder’s fitness levels thanks to his hold-out. Friedel would not include Nguyen in any of the squads leading up to the transfer window deadline.
Nguyen’s absence certainly flummoxed many supporters as well as several members of the Revolution press corps. Following the 1-nil defeat at the hands of FC Dallas on April 14, a reporter asked Friedel if he wished he had Nguyen available for selection.
“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,” Friedel said in his post-match presser. “If I wanted to do that, I would have brought Zach Herivaux off the bench and replaced him with Diego.”
That triggered belief that Nguyen’s tenure on Route 1 had come to an end.
The next day, former Revolution player-turned-pundit Taylor Twellman noted during ESPN’s MLS Game of the Week that an Eastern Conference rival -- reportedly the Chicago Fire -- had offered $750,000 in allocation money to the Revs for Nguyen on April 5, but that the offer was turned down. He also suggested the Revs’ front office needed to address why a player making a $500,000 salary was playing with the Reserves instead of with the first team.
Two days later -- April 17 -- Friedel addressed those concerns during his media availability at Gillette Stadium: “There aren’t so many questions. I said when I was hired that what you did in the past, what your salary is, what your last name is, is absolutely irrelevant to myself and my staff. It’s what you do in front of us. That’s what’s going to impress us or not impress us. I said it then, I’m going to say it again now. He opted not to come to (preseason) training … everybody else is working incredibly hard and someone doesn’t turn up, and then when he does turn up, he’s so far behind fitness. There’s no punishment, I don’t have one issue with Lee. We have not had one personal back and forth with each other at all.
“I’ve not punished a player here once. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about getting players’ fitness levels up and playing, by the way, committed players. When a new staff comes in, it’s a clean slate. It’s very, very simple. And the players who were willing to commit and put the effort forth and the players who are getting the opportunity to play. It’s very simple. There’s nothing more to it. I have zero … when I pick a team, no matter who it is, there are zero personal issues that go into it. It is who myself and my staff feel will win a game on the weekend. There is nothing more of less to it.”