Amber Nguyen: An excuse-free maestro

With four years under her belt, senior Amber Nguyen shares the story of her tenacious play style and some of her favorite memories at Vanderbilt.
After four years on West End, Amber Nguyen reflects on her play style and family. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
After four years on West End, Amber Nguyen reflects on her play style and family. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Lexie Perez

“When I go on the field, I just try to play my part,” senior midfielder Amber Nguyen told The Hustler. “For me, a successful game is connecting passes and putting my teammates in a better position because I trust those up top, I trust Abi [Brighton] who’s next to me and I trust the people behind me too. I just want to win all the second balls I can; be quick, be dynamic.”

The problem with playing center-defensive mid is that your most notable contributions often don’t show up on the stat sheet. You’re the start of any attack and the epicenter of the team’s defense, yet your pass interceptions, blocked shots and break-through long balls go unnoticed in the eyes of the scorer’s table. 

Luckily, any competent spectator of the game can understand the crucial role the number six spot plays on every pitch. For Vanderbilt, this responsibility falls to senior Nguyen whose 66 game appearances and 21 points fall short of demonstrating the magnitude of her true contributions. However, for her, the level of recognition she receives doesn’t matter, it’s the team she cares most about. 

This no-excuse mindset has always been present for the Georgia native, though. Even from her childhood, her father and brothers all encouraged her to be persistent and confident in everything she did.

“My family means so much to me, my dad — he taught me everything I know about soccer. I have two older brothers, and without them, I wouldn’t be as competitive as I am,” Nguyen said. “Being the youngest and the only girl, my dad always put me on the edge and said, ‘Hey, just because you’re a girl, doesn’t mean you can’t compete.’ He really stuck out and taught me a lot. My older brothers, they were like, ‘Whatever we can do, you can do.’ That pushed me a lot. I also played on their teams growing up, so that helped me too.” 

Nguyen’s role models don’t stop there. Appropriately, she looks to the pro game for inspiration. Players like Neymar, Kevin De Bruyne, Ronaldinho and Iniesta all come to mind, but one player in particular stands out to her because of a common trait they share. 

“Messi — he taught me so much, just because I’m small. Being 5’6” and being one of the best in the world [shows] you can’t really have an excuse for anything, so I like to model my game after him,” Nguyen said. “One thing that Messi taught me with being small is that soccer is played at your feet. You can’t have that [height] excuse. I guess small players do big things.”

Nguyen’s on-field product mirrors these inputs. She’s easy to spot due to her prevalence in the back field and on the attack, but off the field, she’s just as well-rounded. Nguyen majors in medicine, health and society; likes to thrift; is into photography and even dabbles in the latest TikTok trends. She’s uncompromisingly herself — something she attributes to the female mentors in her life.

“My aunt and, obviously, my mom too are really important women in my life. They show me what strong women look like and how leadership and being independent really feel like and look like. They put me in a lot of challenging positions, and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am,” Nguyen said. “They’ve helped navigate a lot in my life and guided me into a lot of great directions. They’re still a huge part of my life.”

Despite this robust support system, entering college during a lockdown, Covid era in another state is not a simple transition. Sure, Nguyen chose Vanderbilt for “the degree, the city and the SEC,” but much of that wasn’t noticeable during the pandemic when life was all practice and online class. She needed a new support system, a new family away from home. With a large freshman class and a couple old friends in Brighton and Alex Wagner, Nguyen found exactly that.

“We had a really strong bond. The Covid year was really tough for all of us, but it helped us a lot being stuck in quarantine together and having all these like crazy experiences. Then, the SEC Tournament — winning it our first year, that really bonded us,” Nguyen said. “Off the field, with the things that people don’t see away from soccer, they’re amazing people. It’s so easy to be yourself around each other and, you know, get into each other but also just trust and love each other. It’s really fun to be part of.”

Thanks to the team’s camaraderie, Vanderbilt took home the 2020 SEC Tournament trophy and had one of its best seasons in recent memory in 2022, winning 12 games en route to an NCAA Tournament berth. Even with the on-field success, Nguyen is taking away something more important to her: the relationships she’s built over the last four years. It’s these things she’ll miss most once her time at Vanderbilt concludes.

“Off the field, [my favorite memories are] just, every night, hanging out with teammates and going to dinners,” Nguyen said. “Those are the good memories.”

Though Vanderbilt’s 2023 season concluded bitterly with a 1-0 loss to Tennessee, Nguyen still has one year of NCAA eligibility left. She’s undecided if she’ll remain at Vanderbilt, head elsewhere or move on from the college life entirely, but one thing is for sure: Nguyen has been a cornerstone of the program since the moment she walked on campus. 

She’s had an influence over games and the squad as a whole that won’t translate to numbers; rather, her impact shows up in the people around her. Nguyen can hang her hat on team accomplishments, such as allowing less than one goal per game this year, and personal accomplishments, like her own mentorship of young Commodores entering the soccer program. As the quintessential box-to-box, do-it-all midfielder, there’s not much Nguyen can’t handle (except blood, as she learned in her time shadowing at a hospital), and whatever the next phase of her life brings, you can bet she’ll face it with an excuse-free determination that every great leader possesses.

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About the Contributors
Sam Curtis
Sam Curtis, Deputy Sports Editor
Sam Curtis (’24) is from Wallingford, Conn., majoring in human and organizational development and French and minoring in data science in Peabody College. He was previously Assistant Sports Editor and Sports Copy Editor. When not writing for The Hustler, he cheers on the Philadelphia Eagles, the 76ers and Leeds United. Outside of sports, he enjoys traveling and learning about history and philosophy. He can be reached at [email protected].    
Lexie Perez
Lexie Perez, Graphics Director
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
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