Being Lee Nguyen
Q&A with man in the middle for New England Revs
New England Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen (Photo courtesy of New England Revolution)
With the New England Revolution in playoff contention for the first time in a few seasons, the 26-year-old midfielder is often in the middle of the action. Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent, played in the Vietnamese Super League as well as in Europe before coming to the MLS. In his second season for the Revs, he opened up about his new favorite hobby, his aquatic aspirations and living large in Vietnam.
Matt Martinelli: You’re 26, but you’ve had quite a journey to get here.
Lee Nguyen: Yeah, I’ve been almost everywhere.
It started when you went pro out of Indiana University. What went into the decision to go pro at that time?
After the season, I had a lot of offers and agents coming in and talking to my dad and to me, and telling me “You have a lot of opportunities to go pro.” And if I was interested, they would want to help. A lot of countries were talking to my coach at Indiana and trying to get insight on if I wanted to leave or not. That took a lot of consideration, and in talking with my family, I just felt like it was the right time to go.
So, you got a firm offer?
A couple of agents came to talk to me and I decided which one was the best for me at the time. One came to talk me and was like: “You can go play pro in MLS or overseas because you have a lot of opportunities in both.” I just felt like it was an opportunity that not many people get, and I wanted to take a hold of it.
Do you have any plans to go back to school once everything in your career is over?
Yeah, it’s been in the talks. It sucks, I still have a lot of schooling left, so it’s one of those things where I just have to commit to it. I wish it was one of those things where I just need to go back and finish a semester. It’s a long haul, a lot of time I need to put into it. Hopefully, at some point I can finish it.
How’d the Vietnam opportunity arrive? Did they contact you?
They contacted my dad because he knows a lot of people over there. They had been trying to get me over there for awhile. First, when I was in college. Then, when I moved to Denmark. They kept talking to my dad. And it was one of those things where it was a tough decision to leave Europe, but at the time it was a contract that I couldn’t turn down. You take it, and you gotta commit to it. So, I just said, let’s go 100 percent and do it.
What was it like over there? Were you a bit of a celebrity?
It was definitely surprising at first. I didn’t know how big I was over there. Going over there, I knew soccer was definitely the number one sport, but it was a countrywide sort of thing. The whole country knew about me, and that I was coming there. The reception I got when I was over there was unbelievable. My name was in all the newspapers, everywhere. I thought it was a big deal, but I didn’t know how big it was until I got over there.
Was there any one particular instance when you were over there and you realized how big a deal you were?
It was crazy because when I first arrived there, it was around midnight. I wasn’t expecting anything, I was just expecting to go down there and land. I was with my agent at the time, and we were just expecting to land, get picked up by the club, and call it a night. And I got there, and we were just—paparazzi, were there, cameras were everywhere—and I thought, what the hell? I thought we were just landing. It took an hour just to get out of the airport because as we were waiting for my bags, people just wanted autographs and pictures. I was blown away by it all.
When you came to MLS, were you homesick or was it just a good opportunity?
A little bit of both. I always had short offseasons, so I never really had a lot of time to visit home. In Vietnam, you have kind of like two or three months off. For that timing, it was always nice to come home, but it was a little bittersweet. It was nice, but it sucked you had to leave so soon. So, I was a little homesick, and I wanted to come back and play in front of friends and family. I just wanted a different challenge. Vietnam was a great time. I had a lot of fun playing with my teammates, and it’s something I always can go back to if I wanted to. But at the same time, I didn’t want to just be content there. I wanted to challenge myself and come back here and prove myself.
How did Vietnam compare to your time in Europe? Did you prefer Europe over Vietnam, all things considered?
There are pros and cons to both. Vietnam was nice because of the celebrity status and you’re catered to. It’s always nice to have that. At the same time, I love Europe because it’s so competitive over there. The football was great. That’s what I enjoy doing. I enjoy playing every day. Getting up every morning and going to train with the best players in the world was just amazing. I took every chance I could to learn from those guys. I just love playing with those types of players who are on a different level like that. I think I miss that the most. Just being able to learn from those guys.
What’s your typical offday like around here?
During the season, it’s pretty easy, I don’t really do too much. I golf once or twice a week with some of the guys on the team. It’s probably my favorite hobby, really. I’ve been getting into that a lot.
Where do you guys go?
Just around here. There’s a number of different courses I go to all around. In Canton, Norton, near Foxboro. Then I go up to the city, hang out there with my girlfriend. Right now, we’re trying to take sailing lessons. We’re trying to get into that. Trying to find time on my day off and go to the Charles River, and take some lessons. We’ve never done it. I’m looking forward to that.
Where’d you grow up?
I grew up in Dallas.
No sailing down there.
No, we just have lakes and speedboats, I guess. I’m a Southern boy, so there’s a lot of country in me. I’m used to a big house, big backyard, and it’s a little different over here. Living the city life now.
Do you live right in Boston?
I live about 15 minutes out, kind of toward the Braintree/Quincy area. I can hop on the train. I’m halfway between the city and here, so it’s a nice little commute for me and my girl.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
It all depends. We have our set days. We both love pho, Vietnamese food. So we go eat that a lot. We go to either Chinatown or Dorchester. Another thing is if we want to go sit outside bayside, we’ll probably go to Legal’s Seaport. We like the view there, so that’s probably one of our other hotspots. Either that or sitting on Newbury Street. Over by Cafeteria, just enjoying people-watching. Those are some of the things we do. Cambridge, we’ll go down there, we’ll go to the Bon-Me place, Vietnamese sandwiches, I don’t know if you’ve ever been there. She likes that, too. It’s just fun when your girl likes the same things you like.
Yeah, that’s good.
Some will be a little picky about food, but not her.
What do you envision once your career is over? Do you have any goals beyond that?
I’d love to keep doing what I’m doing and being in the sport. I want to get my coaching license and hopefully get into coaching afterward, but hopefully I can play soccer as long as I can. When I am done playing, I do want to stay in the sport and hopefully consider coaching and helping other people.