BY DAVE MARTINEZ
After trading away Dane Richards last season, then New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe quickly realized how dramatically his wing play suffered. He took a chance on signing Lloyd Sam to buffer the loss. While out of form and fitness, Backe believed the speedy, young English midfielder would fill the gap in what had become an impotent flank attack.
This year, rookie head coach Mike Petke faces a similar problem. While his midfield includes perhaps some of the best names on any roster in Major League Soccer (Tim Cahill, Juninho, Dax McCarty), the team’s lack of width has, at many times, made New York’s attack one dimensional and predictable.
On Saturday, Petke finally turned to Sam for some extended minutes during a crucial time in their match against the New England Revolution. While the visitors began to press, Sam played a big part in turning the tides and ultimately helping secure the team’s biggest victory of the season.
“We are the New York Red Bulls; we should be doing that at home,” Sam said after the match. “We shouldn’t be just getting through games. People should be scared to come here. It needs to be more like that.
And while measured in his response, he did feel he contributed to the turnaround. “I haven’t been on the pitch enough to say it was different before but it did felt good,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got capable players to get passes in and to have good, fluid attacks.
“Sometimes, not saying I’ve been missing, but sometimes there has been wide play missing, so I feel like I can fill that void.”
It’s no secret that Sam has been pushing for more playing time. It’s a topic that comes up with some frequency between himself and the coach. “There has been a lot of conversations we have had about how I’ve been feeling,” Sam said. “I want more time. He didn’t say exactly what he wanted to see.”
Petke did, however, pull Sam to the side before inserting him into the match to give him some words of encouragement. “He kind of said something along the lines of obviously he knows I want more time or whatever. Just show what you can do,” Sam revealed. “I was thinking ‘ya, I still want more time than this to show’ but I’ll take this. It was good to go out there.”
“I thought that this game and that moment suited Lloyd for what he brings,” Petke said after the match. “I think he was forced to play a bit more defensively than I was thinking he would have. When he came on, the game kind of shifted that direction pretty fast, but when he got the ball at his feet he did well.
“I thought he did well,” he continued. “I thought he took his chances. I think he got a little excited, you know, took maybe on one occasion when he beat the one guy and then took one too many touches, but that’s expected. And I think he was a good outlet for us.”
Sam did add width to the Red Bulls attack but was, as the coach delineated, a bit excitable on the ball. His nerves may have gotten the best of him on one particular scoring opportunity. Jonny Steele, who was having a banner night, found Sam in the box but the Englishman failed to connect on the ball. “I’m a bit annoyed with myself,” he said. “If I went 110% in I would have gotten it.”
Nevertheless, Sam hopes he made enough of an impression to garner more minutes.
“I’ve trained every session this season. I’ve been feeling good for a while. It’s just being on the pitch now,” he said. “All I can say is obviously I want more time on the pitch but I guess that’s a start so hopefully it continues.”