HARRISON, N.J. – Lloyd Sam entered 2014 feeling as strong as he had in quite some time. Whether that would translate to on-field production was an unknown, but he has since answered that question emphatically.
Sam delivered his latest standout performance for the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night, scoring the game-winning goal in a 2-1 triumph over the Philadelphia Union that marked the club’s first victory of the season. The English midfielder’s tally came in the 67th minute via a rare header, one on which he beat teammate Tim Cahill to the ball before depositing it in the corner with Cahill-esque authority.
It was Sam’s first goal of the campaign, and also emblematic of his strong start to the year.
“It was a great goal by Lloyd,” said Cahill, who was so happy for Sam that he speared him into the ground after the ball hit the back of the net. “He’s been playing excellent. He’s been really a spark on the right and I think for us we’ve needed that, but we haven’t really finished off some of his good work.
"For him to be on the end of someone else’s cross, I was just happy with him as you can see with the celebration.”
Sam has indeed been one of the more consistent performers for a Red Bulls side that's sleepwalked through many of their games this season. The 29-year-old veteran has added a dynamic aspect to New York’s midfield, providing some sorely-needed pace and delivering a steady dose of crosses from the right flank.
His speed and ability to send in a ball with both feet have made him a headache for defenders, who constantly bite on his patented fake-cross move, and that’s resulted in three assists through seven games.
“I feel great,” Sam said Wednesday. “I’ve played 90 on Saturday [in a 1-0 loss vs. D.C. United] and 90 today. To start and finish the games, it’s just good. I feel really a part of the team this season.”
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That was not always the case last year with Sam after he struggled to break into the Red Bulls lineup on a permanent basis until late August in 2013. Since then, though, he's since seen his role increase dramatically.
Sam has played all but nine minutes for the Red Bulls thus far in 2014 – a clear sign that he is now an integral part of head coach Mike Petke's plans – and the midfielder has fared well for much of that span. Wednesday's goal was just his latest contribution.
“I’ve never seen him head a ball like that before,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “I was giving him crap earlier in the season because he missed a header at the far post in one of the first games of the season and it hit sidenetting. It was a great finish by him.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.