HARRISON, N.J. – It seems fitting that Luis Robles and Lloyd Sam each received their first MLS start together.
Aside from their lockers being side by side at Red Bull Arena, both players’ stories are similar. Robles and Sam joined New York this summer after stints in the lower divisions of Germany and England, respectively, the hope being that they could take the next step in their respective careers with the Red Bulls while helping the club hoist the MLS Cup. They both also came in knowing they were complimentary players on a team full of talent, with no amount of playing time guaranteed.
Still, the pair made the most of their first starting appearances for the Red Bulls, putting forth solid efforts in the club’s 4-1 win over Toronto FC on Saturday.
While not spectacular, Robles was sturdy while filling in for the injured Bill Gaudette. The 28-year-old netminder was beaten by a dipping, long-distance effort from Ryan Johnson early on, but he made sure-handed saves on the remaining shots he faced while also intercepting dangerous crosses on a pair of occasions, a solid showing considering his last competitive match came 10 months ago.
“I think it was nice at least I knew ahead of time [that I would start], as a goalkeeper you want to prepare mentally,” Robles told reporters after the game. “Of course, my first action was me picking the ball out of the back of the net. I was like, ‘Oh, welcome back to the game.’ But at the end of the day, I’m a professional and I want to do whatever I can to help the team.”
Sam dazzled a bit more in his outing, looking like the piece the Red Bulls’ offense has been sorely missing since midfielder Dane Richards was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps in July. Sam provided speed on the flanks, an ability to take players on and quality crosses, all of which earned the 28-year-old some heavy praise from the likes of head coach Hans Backe and Tim Cahill after the game.
“Off the pitch, he’s fantastic [and] on the training pitch he’s a great guy, but he gives a different element going forward,” said Cahill. “He puts a bit of fear into defenders and that’s exactly what we needed and he got a lot of crosses in. For us, we’re a very attacking team when we get forward, so we need that.”
Sam got his first MLS assist in a 58-minute outing that was cut short due to tightness in his left hamstring, and also showed some serious determination on defense on one specific play. After he had turned the ball over on a set piece at the edge of Toronto’s penalty area, Sam raced back at least 80 yards to make a last-ditch slide tackle that prevented the visitors from breaking in free on Robles.
It was a play that revealed just how much Sam desires to be a staple in New York’s starting midfield.
“I’ve been here a while, just waiting for a chance,” said Sam, who made his MLS debut as a substitute last month. “I came on a couple weeks back and I knew once I start, I’ve got to take my chance hopefully and get as many balls in the box and ultimately win the game.”
The severity of Sam’s injury has not yet been determined, but he is hoping that it will not hinder his chances of earning a second straight start next weekend.
“I don’t really want to miss any games,” said. “You come out of the team, you don’t even know when you’ll come back in it, so I don’t want to miss no games.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.