Nguyen, White bring a European savvy to Revolution
FOXBOROUGH - Lee Nguyen and Jeremiah White chased their dreams to play soccer in Europe. Now, they are back in their home country - older, wiser, and richer for the experience.
Nguyen made his MLS debut with the Revolution in a 1-0 loss at San Jose last week, and he is expected to be in the lineup when the team visits Sporting Kansas City Saturday night. White signed with the Revolution this week.
Though Nguyen, 25, and White, 29, have been away for several years, both are still near the prime of their careers.
Nguyen displayed composure and technical ability in his first game, changing the dynamic of the Revolution attack in a substitute role, and nearly providing the tying goal in the closing minutes.
Nguyen, who played three times for the US national team in 2007, was with four teams in three countries before Vancouver selected him in an MLS reentry draft. The Revolution claimed Nguyen after he was waived by the Whitecaps last week.
White, who was selected by the Revolution in the 2004 draft, has shown speed and attacking sense as a right midfielder in practice. He trained with the Revolution in ’04, but refused a contract offer to move to OFK Belgrade in Serbia, the first of six stops on his foreign adventure.
The experience of Nguyen and White reflects the ambition and improving sophistication of young US players seeking to establish their value on the open market. Both earned enough to return to the MLS with a feeling of financial security. They also have proven themselves in difficult situations and add a level of professionalism to the Revolution.
“A lot of people don’t make it overseas because there are a few things you have to be able to adjust to - cultural, language barriers, and then homesickness,’’ said White. “It really takes a certain type of individual to be able to overcome all three.
“Also, in the face of that, adversity. To have an unsuccessful time and then to push on, it really takes a special mentality to be able to pursue that. So, anyone who goes over and tries, they have my respect. But the league here is to the point where a lot of players from abroad are trying to come here. MLS is a desirable place to be, absolutely.’’
Nguyen was born in Richardson, Texas, played at Indiana University, then joined Dutch power PSV Eindhoven in 2005. He went to Randers in Denmark and played for Hoang Anh Gia Lai and Binh Duong in Vietnam.
“I didn’t know much about it,’’ Nguyen said of the Vietnamese league. “At that time, it was like I wanted to check it out, and it really was kind of a money move more than anything.’’ “It’s an up-and-coming league. It’s very technical over there, it’s fast, the players are quick, and it’s just a different style of play, more technical.’’
Nguyen and White are former teammates of the Revolution’s Benny Feilhaber, and they symbolize a Revolution shift in emphasis toward players with technical qualities complementary to Feilhaber.
“[White] is a great player, he gives us depth on the right side,’’ Feilhaber said. “He will be able to create some things that guys without those kind of wheels that he has can’t create.
“I’ve always said that, mentally, you grow a tremendous amount in Europe. The lifestyle is soccer. If you’re a professional soccer player in Europe, that’s really all that matters.
“In the US, it’s not so much because there are so many sports and other things people take an interest in. In Europe, it’s basically, soccer’s life.’’
Nguyen played forward as a replacement for Fernando Cardenas last Saturday against San Jose.
“He’s really good on the ball,’’ said Revolution coach Jay Heaps. “He’s one of those players who will never have a set position because he can be a striker, wide midfielder, a No. 10. I think he will try to find holes where he can get the ball. We have a few guys like that, and it’s a matter of getting them in the right spots so it’s kind of balanced.’’
White went from Serbia to Greece (Panserraikos), France (Guegnon), Denmark (Aarhus), Saudi Arabia (Al-Ettifaq), and Poland (GKS Belchatow), then took a year off to establish a software technology company in Pennsylvania.
“When I came here [in 2004], I thought it was great,’’ White said. “There was a really good crop of guys - Taylor [Twellman], Clint [Dempsey] was here, Jay was a player.
“Back then, they were training at a place [Wrentham State School] far away from the stadium.’’
Heaps tracked down White soon after being named coach in November, inviting him to work with the team on a tryout basis.
“I remember him in Wrentham and remember thinking like, ‘Wow, it would be great if we can get this kid,’ ’’ Heaps said. “He was only in for about a week. I remember him then with the same speed he has now.
“He would have been a great addition to our team. I think he would have added quite a bit back then for us. He was a forward then and now we see him as a flank midfielder that has the ability to pick up some speed and get behind defenders.
“He’s able to make the field vertical, stretch the field for us, allow our midfield to go vertical, and at the same time give us more room to possess.’’
White might have given the Revolution a lift in their 2005-07 MLS Cup defeats.
“But again, it was just pursuing a personal goal, you know?’’ White said of his choice to move to Europe. “But I’m really happy to be back. I always felt comfortable here.’’
White’s most successful seasons were in France’s Ligue 2 and Denmark’s Super League. But his most lucrative move was to Saudi Arabia.
“People here don’t know much about the Middle East, which is quite competitive,’’ White said. “Saudi teams always make it to the semis and finals in Asia, which gives you an idea of the level.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.