Vietnam Star or League Minimum

Did I just learn why the negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement are so contentious? Did I find out just how disrespected the Vietnam league is? Or did I discover that MLS doesn’t think he’s worth it? There is plenty to learn from the professional path taken by Lee Nguyen, but at present, all I have are questions.

Talking to Nguyen back in November of last year it seemed certain he would be playing in a MLS uniform in 2010. Once high school player of the year and college freshman of the year, as recently as last fall Arsenal had nice things to say about the 23-year-old Texan who played within the national team system at almost every level. He’s spent time at PSV Eindhoven, Randers FC, and HAGL in Vietnam. In an environment where nearly every talented young American player runs from MLS to foreign countries for better competition and compensation, here is a guy who wants to come back home. Done and done, right? So why am I waking him up at 6:45 AM in Vietnam—Lee thankfully awake from the half-day time change and jet lag before his new season starts at the end of the month?

It has been a while since his last national team call-up, and he is not even listed in the 2009 national team player pool, So what kind of contract offer should he be expecting to get from MLS? Turns out, as reported by 3rd Degree, Nguyen gets an offer from MLS similar to what he left on the table when he went to Europe after one year of college instead of signing a Generation Adidas contract with MLS… So that American kids don’t initially skip signing with MLS to only return a few years later for more money? Isn’t that the free market? Vietnam, a relatively smaller but freer fish than MLS, and one with an ancestral interest in the young player whose family has roots in the country, will undoubtedly offer more than the frugal American top flight, but what would be reasonable upon his return now?

MLS does not comment publicly on negotiations with any prospective player, but according to Nguyen, MLS offered the league minimum for 5 years.

TIAS: You wrote on Twitter that the deal MLS offered you just wasn’t worth staying for. Can you go into any more detail as to why that was?

Lee Nguyen: It’s a no-brainer really. Basically the offer was the league minimum for 5 years. By the way, there was also something brewing from Mexico.

And it was really the league minimum, no more than that?

No more than that. I knew before coming back that I was going to have to take a pay cut, and I didn’t mind that at all. Because it was based on me wanting to come back and show my ability and get my name out there to the fans in the States. But for the league minimum for five years I just couldn’t take it.

I guess I am surprised Dallas or another interested team wouldn’t push MLS to give you more money if they wanted you to stay and sign.

My agent told me there were teams interested and obviously Dallas was one of the ones I was interested in being so close to home. But finding a club wasn’t the problem, we were trying to get the right contract with the league. I was willing to compromise and come back for a pay cut or have a performance-based contract, having something progress within the next couple of years–maybe something after the first or second seasons it goes up if I play well–but they wanted to lock me down for five years at the minimum, so I had other things to consider. Not just me but my family, taking care of them as well. And I couldn’t even take care of myself if that was the case.

Does this leave a bad taste from the whole experience or are you just moving on?

Now I know why so many players in the league are frustrated. I guess for now it’s just how it is working out. So I just got to put it behind me and look forward and hopefully look at some more options next year or the year after that. We definitely tried to come back but it just didn’t work out this year.

What is the state of your contract in Vietnam?

I have this season and next season, and then I’m a free agent. But we would possibly be able to do some sort of loan in August, depending on how well this season goes. We’ll see.

Run through the dates of the Vietnam league so people know when to look for you on the field.

It starts on January 31st and runs all the way to August.

And what’s the reaction been in Vietnam to your return?

They’re happy. We’re all happy. The owner is glad to have me back. We even got a whole new batch of size 5 soccer balls to train with. We have a new coach who I trained with for the first time on Tuesday, so I think we are going to have a good season this year.