What does a soccer coach do when his or her leading scorer goes down with an injury midway through a season? The answer for soccer head coach Dan Abdalla was to place a heralded freshman in position to lead the team. With last season’s injury of midfielder Lauren Pope, as well as the season-ending injury of midfielder Angie Nickens, Michelle Nguyen received the responsibility of leading the squad – a task not usually expected of a freshman.
“When (Nguyen and Pope) were in together, it was actually a very, very good combination,” Abdalla said, “but Michelle was able to kind of pass the responsibility of everything off on to Lauren, so when Lauren went down she had to slide into that role where she really had to become our playmaker.”
Nguyen responded to her leadership role with vigor, finishing second on the team in scoring and second in the Mountain West Conference in shots attempted.
Although Nguyen, currently a sophomore, is happy to have Pope back on the field, the experience of being looked to as a leader as a freshman was beneficial to both her individual and the team’s development.
“I think the experience she gained last year was tremendous,” Abdalla said. I think she had some ups and downs with it, but right now I think we’re seeing the benefits of that.”
Abdalla said Nguyen is twice the player she was last season.
“Lauren’s injury was a big deficit to the team, but I filled in as best as I could,” Nguyen said. “I’d try to help the team’s emotions – not let them get down on themselves – let them know that we can still make it through the rest of the year.”
When Pope went down against the Sam Houston State University Bearkats, the Richardson native had to define herself as the team’s central midfielder, and it was her job to dictate the offensive flow and the tempo of the match, Nickens said.
Her advanced role on the team proved to be helpful to Nguyen, who in the off-season was named to Soccer Buzz’s All-Freshman Central Regional Team – the first TCU student to do so since 1999.
She was also selected to join the U.S. Amateur Soccer Association’s national camp.
Abdalla’s description of Nguyen’s flair between the lines is that of “creative playmaker.”
“She’s technically one of the best players that I’ve ever been around, male or female, so that just gives her so much range for so many things,” Abdalla said. “It’s tough to pigeonhole her for just one thing, just because I think she has the ability to be so dynamic and do so many things.”
With all of her on-the-field responsibilities and off-the-field honors, Nguyen’s game has already started improving and advancing with experience. Nguyen acknowledged that her time at the national soccer camp helped her game.
“(It gave me) higher level, higher standards and it increased my speed of play,” Nguyen said.
This season, Nguyen is joined by a healthy team and a Soccer Buzz-rated top 40 group of incoming recruits that include midfielder/forward Kaylie Garcia and forward Jackie Torda.
“I feel the team came in at a different caliber this year, so I think it’s going to be a new year for us,” Nguyen said.
With Pope and Nickens entering their final years of eligibility, Nguyen will soon be taking over the top spot on the team again.
“She’ll definitely be one of the top people to look up to from the younger players stand point,” Nickens said. “I mean she’s doing that now so I think she’s ready for it.”
Abdalla agreed with Nickens’ assessment of Nguyen’s development.
“I think she’s already started to take a leadership role,” Abdalla said. “We see her communicating, talking in practices and that’s what we’re going to keep asking of her: to keep increasing that role.”
The team could be an intimidating presence in the Mountain West Conference by being able to bode not only a triple midfield threat of Nguyen, Nickens and the team that missed the postseason by one game last year, will enter the Mountain West Conference with the top recruiting class in the conference. Moreover the triple-threat of Nguyen, Nickens and Pope in the middle will help guide the new recruits.
Nguyen’s future in soccer is not yet determined, but she said she is focusing on the present and trying to do what it takes to win. Abdalla, however, said that if Nguyen wants to play at a national level, she has the ability and the potential to do so.
Only time will tell what lies ahead for Nguyen, but one thing is for sure: she’s ready.