Photo by ISIPhotos.com
BY DAVE MARTINEZ
From shoe-in starter to bench rider and back to the starting XI, New York Red Bull midfielder Lloyd Sam has certainly undergone a roller coaster season.
A preseason misunderstanding with no-nonsense rookie head coach Mike Petke effectively landed Sam on the bench and into his coach’s nascent doghouse. Sam watched on from New York as unproven 21-year-old winger Ruben Bover got the nod over him for the season opener against Portland.
He has been fighting for his spot back ever since – and it hasn’t been an easy climb. His first official start came on April 27th; 10 games into the regular season. An uneventful 70 minutes saw him land back on the bench. Two weeks later, he scored the lone goal in a 1-1 draw at Gilette Stadium.
Despite the production, he went on to play a support role off the bench for the rest of the month.
While Petke stated earlier this summer that Sam’s best role on the team is off the bench, the Englishman has always had other ideas, stating his case to both the boss and media for starting minutes. His bench role continued through the start of August where he managed to break through in short time against Sporting KC until an injury forced him out.
With the season winding down to the final eight matches, Sam knew his time was wearing thin. He wanted one more shot at the starting spot and the opportunity presented itself in the form of a devastating loss at Chivas USA.
Scrambling for answers, Petke turned to Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips to turn the team’s fortunes. For his part, Sam wouldn’t disappoint. The speedy winger helped open up the Red Bull offense, scoring two goals in two games since Chivas while playing an integral part in that revival.
Is it a message to Petke and the staff? Perhaps – not that the Red Bulls’ boss minds.
“Lloyd, two games in a row now that he has stuck it to me in a way,” Petke acknowledged after the team’s 4-1 thrashing of Houston. “I am glad. That is what I am looking for. He is very good with the ball.”
How good? Sam leads the team in goals-per-90 minutes (.61), nearly doubling the production of Thierry Henry (.35) and Tim Cahill (.39) in the same category. His four goals equal the output of Dax McCarty, Jonny Steele and Jamison Olave despite the fact that these regular starters have put in nearly four times the minutes he has. He has also outproduced wing-competitor Eric Alexander, who has appeared in every match, but has only scored three times this season.
Most impressive? Sam’s four goals have come on only six shots.
His production is beginning to make people notice. In fact, after neglecting the winger for most of this year, Petke has undergone quite the 180 when it comes to his once-forgotten winger.
“Again, like I said in DC last week, I didn’t think we got him the ball enough (against Houston),” Petke explained “I think he could have done more damage against (Mike) Chabala.
“Listen,” he continues. “I am pleased at the end of the day.”
And after this unpredictable season, you have to believe Sam is as well.