The New England Revolution have cemented second place in MLS' Eastern Conference, and it's no surprise that Lee Nguyen, the club's MLS MVP candidate, was at the center of the action in yet another victory. The Revs’ magic man scored twice over the weekend, lifting the Revs to a 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo after being down 1-0 at halftime.
As always, the debate over MVP also boils down to how each voter defines “most valuable.” Is it the most valuable player to his team? Or the most valuable across the league, regardless of what the team does on the back of his contributions? Or is it just best overall player, period?
Thursday’s two-goal performance, Nguyen’s fifth match of the season with more than one goal and/or assist, fits the first definition. New England struggled for attacking momentum in the first half against Houston, despite being in much better form than the Dynamo.
Twenty minutes into the second half, Nguyen struck with the equalizer, finding space between Houston’s defensive and midfield lines and cutting back on a defender before bending a sublime shot into the upper right-hand corner of the goal from about the penalty spot.
That goal highlighted his superior soccer savvy. Nguyen’s movement off the ball usually finds an open space between players or lines of players, making him dangerous on almost every attack.
On his second, he did it again. As a free kick served from the right pinged around the penalty area, he maintained his positioning and waited for opposing players’ heads to swivel to the ball and away from him. As that happened, Charlie Davies smacked a shot that was cleared off the line.
Nguyen anticipated the rebound and ran off Ricardo Clark’s back shoulder, leaving the ball-watching World Cup veteran in the dust and putting himself in a 2-on-1 situation on top of the six-yard box. Darrius Barnes tapped the ball across, and Nguyen slammed it home for an 87th-minute game-winning goal on the road.
As he continues to pace the New England attack, it’s become increasingly difficult to ignore the tear Nguyen has been on in 2014 — and much easier to wonder how he hasn’t received a United States call-up since 2007, especially as the league’s top-scoring American.
Nguyen and 10 others comprise this week’s MLS Team of the Week:
Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI — Week 32
• Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake): It’s nothing new to see Rimando flying around his six-yard box, but his shot-stopping was again on full display in a scoreless draw against Portland. He made several reaction saves from close range, particularly in the second half, to snatch a point from the Timbers on the road.
• Eric Miller (Montreal Impact): Miller created two goal-scoring opportunities by bombing down the left flank in a 1-1 draw with Toronto, although he remained mindful of his defensive responsibilities as well. He finished with eight tackles and five interceptions on the other end of the field.
• Zach Loyd (FC Dallas): Loyd anchored Dallas’ back line in a tough 1-0 win over Colorado, completing five clearances and leading his team with three interceptions. He and Matt Hedges comprise one of the toughest central-defensive partnerships in the league.
• Aurélien Collin (Sporting Kansas City): Collin made a whopping 10 interceptions and nine clearances in a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia, although he struggled at times to track deep runners. He also completed 90 percent of his passes out of the back to kickstart the SKC attack.
• Diego Chará (Portland Timbers): Chará made 15 loose-ball recoveries in the first half alone and 16 total against RSL. Since Will Johnson’s injury, Chará’s role has been magnified, and he stepped up to play a nearly flawless game as a midfield destroyer on Friday.
• Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew): Finlay scored the second goal and assisted both of Aaron Schoenfeld’s in a 3-1 win over New York. He’s scored in four consecutive games and five in the last six for the Crew.
• Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution): The former Indiana Hoosier scored twice in the second half to drag New England to a 2-1 win at Houston. He’s up to 17 goals now, making him the highest-scoring American in MLS (Gyasi Zardes has 16, Clint Dempsey 15).
• Cristián Maidana (Philadelphia Union): Maidana assisted both of the Union’s goals against Kansas City and created five chances total in the match. He led his team with 76 touches on the ball and threaded difficult balls through the SKC back line to Brian Brown and Pedro Ribeiro on their goals, making for simple finishes under pressure.
• Baggio Husidić (LA Galaxy): Husidić scored late in the first half and added an assist early in the second, before his team collapsed and conceded twice to finish with a 2-2 draw against Seattle. His goal and assist were similar, coming off Husidić staying in the space on top of the Sounders’ back line and finding knockdowns after weak clearances.
• Eddie Johnson (D.C. United): Johnson scored one goal and assisted the other in D.C.’s first-place-clinching win, his first start since Aug. 27. His assist in particular was superb, his pinpoint cross on an overlapping run down the right catching Chris Pontius square on the forehead at the back post.
• Aaron Schoenfeld (Columbus Crew): Schoenfeld scored twice in the same game for the first time in his MLS career against the Red Bulls. He finally took advantage of a string of seven straight starts with his brace.