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w/ U-20 MNT Forward Lee Nguyen

A monthly feature about a U.S. Men’s, Women’s or Youth National Team player whose performance or potential calls for that bright, shining spotlight. This month, it falls to YNT midfielder Lee Nguyen.

You might not know how to pronounce Lee Nguyen’s last name, but you should (it’s pronounced WIN, as in, “I want to win the game”). Why? Because you’re going to be hearing about him a lot over the next few months.

The only high school player in camp with the U.S. Under-20s as they prepare for the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship, Nguyen is making it virtually impossible for head coach Sigi Schmid not to take him to Holland with impressive play in the past few camps. In fact, our sources say he’ll be taking in the Dutch culture come June. And while he’ll probably be riding the bench behind his older teammates for most of the tournament, here’s hoping we get to see a few flashes of this burgeoning young star.

As an 18-year-old, Lee Nguyen reached an important milestone this year: high school graduation.

And while most 18-year-old high school graduates are focusing on getting a summer job in order to survive the first semester of college, Nguyen’s focus is on something a little bit different: getting to the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship in Holland.

That’s because, this year, as a soccer player, he reached a couple more milestones. The Plano East Senior High School standout was named 2004 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year and jumped from playing club soccer to getting called in with the U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team to earning a spot with the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team.

“It was definitely a big shock for me,” Nguyen said about winning the Gatorade award and a few months later being moved up from the U.S. U-18 team to the U-20 squad. “It happened all at once. It was definitely overwhelming and I just had to go with the flow.”

Currently the youngest player in camp besides Freddy Adu, and the only high school aged player with the team, Nguyen earned his first cap – and his first start – for the U.S. U-20s in the squad’s final preparation game before heading to Holland for the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship. Nguyen’s push for a World Championship roster spot only got stronger, as he was involved in both goals in the 2-0 win over Canada’s U-20 team in Blaine, Minn.

And although it might seem difficult to come into a squad of older players and be expected to act and compete at their level, Nguyen said fitting in was the easy part.

“All of these guys are really good friends and they welcome you right away,” Nguyen said. “When you’re not playing soccer, you’re hanging out with them and you’re around them all the time and you get to know them.”

Getting to know them doesn’t mean they let him forget that he’s the newest member of the team. Then again, when the benefits of enduring inevitable rookie hazing include a possible trip to Holland and continuos development Nguyen is more than happy to carry bags or sit near the front of the bus.

“It definitely sucks sometimes,” Nguyen said. “Like, every time we play keep-away or video games or whatever, you’re always the one in the middle. But playing with Freddy and Eddie and all of them definitely helps your game.”

And although soccer is the central focus of his life right now, while he’s in camp at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., with the rest of the U-20 college-age players, Nguyen does still have college on his mind. He will be attending Indiana University in the fall along with current U-20 teammate Jacob Peterson, a school he chose as much for the academics as for the athletics.

“I chose Indiana because they have a good business school,” Nguyen said. “I committed to Indiana before they even won their second straight championship. It was good to see them win.”

If the accolades are any indication of what he has to offer, then Indiana University may have found a gold mine in the young Nguyen. But Nguyen knows that the hype means nothing if you can’t back it up.

“With winning Gatorade and all that,” Nguyen said, “I definitely have to live up to it.”