The New York Red Bulls march to the Eastern Conference Finals last season was certainly a total team effort but one of the key contributors to their success during that outstanding playoff run was midfielder Lloyd Sam. The talented English player possesses amazing speed, stellar dribbling skills, and precise passing capability. These attributes combine to make him a focal point in the Red Bulls offensive attack.
Sam has a unique ability to transition the ball quickly when he gets into open space either by dribbling through traffic or by crisp passes to teammates. He is also capable of switching fields well if his side of the pitch is crowded with opposing players. His on-the-ball skills are capable of keeping even the most experienced defenders in MLS guessing to determine the best way to contain him.
Lloyd Sam has quickly become a fan favorite of Red Bulls supporters for his dazzling skills out on the midfield wing which was a pivotal position in the system used when Mike Petke coached the team. It was Sam who often controlled the distribution of the ball to the Red Bulls other offensive weapons last season: Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips. In reviewing the matches where the Red Bulls had difficulty scoring last season, it was usually because the opposing team had found a way to take Sam out of the flow of the game.
In my view, his talents do not translate well when watching the game on television. He is a player who executes many intangible elements of the game of soccer and does so very well. I recall the first time I saw him play in person at Red Bull Arena I was shocked at both his speed and his ability on crosses. His passing skills are so precise and his ability to make defenders miss him in open space adds a dimension of creativity to the entire offense.
Although he is not a prolific goal scorer, one of his most memorable moments with the club was in 2013 when Sam scored one of the five goals the Red Bulls put in the net in a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Fire which clinched the Supporters' Shield trophy. I remember watching that match at home in front of the television so thrilled that the club had won their first significant trophy, and Sam's goal will always be a part of those memories.
Lloyd Sam also proved to be a valuable asset to the team in the playoff run last season, where neither Sporting Kansas City or the D.C. United could not determine a way to contain his speed on the wing in the early rounds. Although the New England Revolution would eventually defeat the Red Bulls in the playoffs, even our rivals to the north had trouble at points with defending Sam and his ball skills.
Another new season is around the corner for the Red Bulls and for Lloyd Sam, and despite the coaching changes and the roster full of new faces, Lloyd Sam will be a key player in the new offensive system being installed by Head Coach Jesse Marsch. It is widely anticipated that Marsch is going to bring in an up-tempo, fast paced offensive scheme to New York and Lloyd Sam has all the right attributes to fit that type of style of play. Sam should be a key contributor to the distribution of the ball in the attacking area of the field and his speed should open up space for other players on the offensive attack as well.
In order for the Red Bulls to be successful in 2015, they will be counting on Lloyd Sam to be a major contributor to this team. I am sure that I join my fellow Red Bulls fans in the sentiment that we are fortunate to have him on our team.