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Meet the Coaches: Lee Nguyen


Heading into 2024, the Angel City coaching staff has three new members—Oliver Blitz, Omar Zeenni, and Lee Nguyen—and one coach, Eleri Earnshaw, who has moved up from an assistant role to first assistant.

This week, we get to know Assistant Coach Lee Nguyen. You can read last week's interview with Performance Analyst Oliver Blitz here.

Different coaches have different strengths: some lean heavily into the Xs and Os of the game itself, while others are more about managing the range of experiences and personalities that come with any team. Angel City Assistant Coach Lee Nguyen’s coaching style is rooted in his 17-year experience as a professional player.

“[I enjoy] being able to relate with the players,” he says. “Not just saying, 'hey, I've done that on the field,' but also, I can see where you're struggling.”

Fans of American men’s soccer know Nguyen as one of the all-time greats of MLS, but may not remember the road he took to get there.

“I've been through all the stages of a professional player,” says Nguyen. “I've been the go-to guy. I've been the team player. I've been the guy that hasn't played that much. So having gone through the ups and downs of being a professional athlete, I know what that's like mentally.”

The Plano, Texas native began his professional career at the Dutch club PSV Eindhoven, after spending just a year at Indiana University. It wasn’t easy. 

“Everything they did in training was in Dutch,” he remembers—a language he didn’t speak a word of. “The first two, three months I had no idea what they're saying… So you go through training and you have to watch what they did and copy it. I would never want to be first in line [for a drill]!”

After two seasons in which he made only one appearance for the senior team, Nguyen moved to the Danish side Randers FC, where he would play 22 matches. In 2009, he transferred to  Hoàng Anh Gia Lai in his parents’ native Vietnam, making him the first-ever American to play in the Vietnamese league.

In 2012, hoping to find his way back to the US Men’s National Team, Nguyen came to MLS, first to the Vancouver Whitecaps—where he was waived after three preseason appearances—then the New England Revolution, where he would become a club legend, scoring 51 goals in his 191 appearances and earning a league MVP nomination in 2014.

Nguyen was traded to LAFC in 2018, where he would spend two seasons; the last years of his career were at Inter Miami, then a second stint with the Revs, and finally back to Vietnam with Ho Chi Minh City FC, where he retired in 2022.

That range of experiences has given Nguyen a lot to pull from when working with players, and allows him to relate authentically to athletes at all different stages of their careers.

“When I went to Europe, I was one of the youngest players,” he says. “I was used to always playing, then going there, having to prove myself, having to earn playing time, it wasn't easy. I wasn't the best player when I got there, so I had to grow and learn how to stick with it and not give up.”

“Another thing that sticks out to me,” he continues, “is when you're transitioning from playing a lot to, as you get older, you know, now you're trying more to bring the younger players up, and that transition can be hard as well.”

The team is already benefiting from that experience.

“I think him being a player himself, and being the footballer that he is, he's had such an immediate impact,” says midfielder Lily Nabet. “It's so easy to go with him with questions and ask his advice on where to be—or he’ll come to you and say, ‘hey, I think you should look for this and that.’ He’s such a natural coach and he’s so approachable.”

Head Coach Becki Tweed echoes Nabet, saying, “He’s able to keep information simple and direct because he knows how players want to be told [things]... Lee, for me, is straight to the point, and he sees the game so well.”

Angel City is the third NWSL team Nguyen has coached for; he was an assistant for the Washington Spirit from 2021–2022 (helping lead the team to a championship in 2021) and the Kansas City Current last year.

Soccer-wise, Nguyen’s role is primarily on the offensive side. “In terms of the staff [Becki] had already created when I got here, there was a role for everyone on the staff,” says Nguyen. “She brought me on and said, ‘hey, I need your help in the offense,’ and for me, that was one of the reasons that I was excited to come here.”

Those reasons also include the city itself, which Nguyen says he considers a second home. “I feel a connection with LA,” he says. “Not just because I played here, but I spent almost every offseason here. So coming back, it’s an area I love, and I love the fans here in LA. They're very passionate about soccer, wanting to grow the community here.”

As a person, Tweed praises Nguyen’s humility and calm demeanor. “He's very level-headed,” says Head Coach Becki Tweed. “When you have a conversation with him one on one, he doesn't come across as the stereotype of a successful athlete. He’s driven by zero ego. You would never know about his career—he doesn’t speak about it.”