HARRISON, N.J. – Lloyd Sam could never play another minute in a New York Red Bulls jersey, and that still would not stop him from being someone who will be talked about for many years to come.
Sam engraved his name in Red Bulls history on Sunday night, scoring what was the eventual winner in a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Fire that gave New York and their blissful fan base the 2013 Supporters' Shield, the first major trophy in the 18-year existence of the club.
For Sam, the 56th-minute goal that ran the score to 3-1 was likely as sweet a moment as he has experienced since signing with New York in 2012.
Not only did he punctuate a quick counterattack by cutting inside of Gonzalo Segares and curling the ball beautifully into the far corner with his left foot, but the goal resulted in a long embrace and warm words from head coach Mike Petke, who earlier in the season had used Sam sporadically off the bench, much to the Englishman’s frustration.
“I can’t remember the exact words, but it was probably just like what he’s told me when me and him talk: Things have changed, basically. I’ve turned a corner and I’ve got nothing to prove anymore,” said the 29-year-old Sam. “It’s been like that the last couple of months. I’ve been involved more … and now I feel a part of the team.”
Sam has reason to feel that way. The veteran midfielder has come a long way since the beginning of the year, starting three of the Red Bulls' last four games and five of the last six that he has been available for, and his teammates now know more than ever that they can count on him to produce on the right flank.
That is why Tim Cahill continuously tells Sam before matches that he is “on fire” (which the Australian was clearly heard telling Sam following his winner vs. Chicago) and why goalkeeper Luis Robles half-jokingly said that New York should probably continue to try and hit on those kind of quick counters in the postseason.
“What a goal by Lloyd,” said Robles, who started the play with a quick throw following a Fire set piece, adding that the goal reminded him of the one Sam scored in an earlier road win vs. Sporting Kansas City.
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“I guess we’re going to have to patent that and maybe we’ll bring that secret into the playoffs as well.”
Sam would not mind that one bit. After all, it would allow him to execute his trademark cut more often.
“That’s one of my favorite moves, the fake-shot or fake-cross,” said Sam with a smile. “I haven’t done it as much at this club as much as I have done it anywhere else. But you’ll probably see it more and more.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.