Competition has been the name of the game with the New York Red Bulls under the Mike Petke regime. Apparent shoe-in starters have all had to earn their keep in the starting XI.
That would include speedy Englishman Lloyd Sam. The midfielder has failed to make the team’s traveling side for either the Portland Timbers or San Jose Earthquakes road matches.
For one, Petke wonders why that is such a surprise.
“Lloyd Sam,” Petke began. “Like I said many times, Lloyd Sam played in two games for us last year and yes he did well for those two games and had an unfortunate injury.
“I am waiting for Lloyd to get back to fitness and at a mentality level where we want him to be at to be ready,” he continued. “When he does do that, he will be a part of the starting XI or be part of the 18 for sure.”
Entering camp, Sam was given the opportunity to play alongside the starting XI but lost his spot after the team’s match against Malmo FF. During that encounter, the ever-vocal Petke began imploring a lackadaisical Sam from the sideline to push forward. The midfielder took apparent umbrage with the critique and visibly waved off his new coach.
He hasn’t been afforded a starting shot since.
One can speculate whether or not Sam is in Petke’s “doghouse,” but from the look of things, he has done himself no favors with the new regime. If you take the coaches word for it, he is once again struggling with fitness issues after spending most of last season working on the same problem.
After the New York Red Bulls traded away Dane Richards for Sebastian Le Toux last season, they scrambled to find a similar commodity to replace the Jamaican’s blazing speed on their wing-heavy system.
Sam fit the bill. The Englishman was picked up by the team despite being out of fitness and shouldering a history of injury issues. He was signed in mid-August and made all of three late game appearances before earning his first starting minutes six weeks later.
In a handful of appearances, Sam electrified the Red Bulls fan base with his attack-centric posture in the midfield and a respectable amount of speed on the flanks. It wasn’t long, however, for him to succumb to injuries once more, leaving the Red Bulls with a small taste of his potential impact.
That potential was enough for the Red Bulls to offer him a new contract in January. Many pundits and observers even penciled him into this year’s starting XI.
But not Petke. The coach wants more from his players and he is making them prove it in training and on the field.
“I’ve had talks with Lloyd,” Petke said. “He is on board with that.”
He would have to be. Even with Juninho out of the lineup, he couldn’t crack the 18 man roster against San Jose. With Ruben Bover earning praise from his coach for his play as well, it won’t get any easier for Sam to claim his spot back.