The train ride from New York City to Washington, D.C. is roughly three hours—covering roughly 225 miles or so. That’s all the distance it took former Red Bulls midfielder Lloyd Sam to cross into enemy territory.
But as the most recent player to be traded between long-time rivals D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls, Sam’s transition has been as quick as his trip.
“It is a quick turnaround,” Sam said after training with D.C. United on Tuesday. “It was tough until I spoke to [D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen]. A wise man once said, ‘You got to go wherever the manager wants you,’ and that reassured me.”
Sam joined his new team in Philadelphia, in advance of D.C.’s visiting stop at the Union this past Saturday, and was immediately added to the game-day roster. He witnessed his first match as a member of the Black-and-Red on the bench, watching his new team fall 3-0 to Philadelphia.
“We talk about defense, defense, defense, but offensively we are not good enough either,” Olsen said. “We have to help our defense out a little bit, and put some in the net.”
This is where Sam could quickly make an impression. With typical right winger Patrick Nyarko still slowly returning to match form, Sam can add an offensive impact to the win, and immediately affect play in the final third, Olsen said.
“[Sam] is one of the best guys in the league at getting crosses off and connecting with forwards,” he said. “He is a two-way player, everything we want in that position. He gives us depth.”
Now, he’ll have to soon use those skills against his former teammates. After five seasons with New York, Sam finds himself on the other side of a fierce, 20-year rivalry. There might have been a few apologies among his new crew, Sam said, but his allegiance is with United.
“I am part of this side,” he said, “and I am ready to go.”
Although he will “let the dust settle” before reaching out to his former Red Bull compatriots, Sam cannot avoid two looming matches. United host the Red Bulls on Aug. 21 (3 pm ET, ESPN, MLS LIVE in Canada), and they travel to Red Bull Arena on Sept. 11 (1 pm ET, ESPN MLS LIVE in Canada).
“Those are huge games. I feel like after this kind of trade, it is probably not just a huge game for me. It’s a huge game for their management for sure,” Sam said. “We can start hyping it up now.”