Lloyd Sam has been scoring goals and adding assists all through preseason and into the New York Red Bulls’ forgettable debut against Vancouver.
That said, he is far from a week-to-week lock as the team’s go-to right midfielder.
Head coach Mike Petke was glowing over Sam’s play during his midweek press conference, but also stressed that incumbent right midfielder Eric Alexander makes just as strong a case for starting minutes as his English teammate.
In fact, the second-year boss may be happy with deploying a platoon system to exploit the very best from either player at the wing until one decides to runaway with the spot.
“[Alexander] has done very well in practice,” Petke explained. “I played Eric in the middle this past game but I also see him just as much of an outside guy that can interchange with Lloyd.”
Of course, that is not to discount Sam’s work this offseason. While he and Petke got off on the wrong foot last season, the former Charlton winger comes into the new year with a better understanding of the team’s expectations — and it is translating on the field. The midfield veteran has shown growth in both his offensive and defensive game, and garnered praise from Petke and his technical staff for his efforts.
“The comment I love to hear from my coaching staff is how much they rave about Lloyd compared to last preseason,” Petke says. “Literally, it took months to get him up to speed and months to get back to where I remember him.
“Now all of a sudden, as my coaches were saying, ‘now I understand what you are saying about Lloyd.’
“That’s a good feeling,” he continues. “He did a lot in preseason good, showing us he wants to be on the field, showing he wants to do everything we ask of him, and that’s a great thing, not only for him, but for us for sure.”
While early impressions with Sam have been positive, Alexander has a body of work that includes a team high 34 appearances last season to back his claim at the wing. The American midfielder is coming off of a busy offseason of his own, working alongside the U.S. Men’s National Team after a surprise call-up in January. He is also a favorite of the coaching staff, having shored up the right midfield slot last year when no one else was able to fill the role.
For now, Petke has a problem of riches, and is more than happy to see his players compete to sort out who will ultimately be the deserving starter.
“There are a lot of positions up for grabs this weekend,” Petke notes. “It doesn’t have to do a lot with the result last weekend — it just goes back to the way I was last year. Train this week, show you want to be in the lineup and you will be in the lineup.
“There are going to be competitions. I don’t see guys like Eric, guys like Lloyd sitting on the bench 8-9 games in a row unless their form [decreases].
“I have no issues making exchanges every couple of games no matter how people are playing, to keep people sharp, rested, and not too comfortable.”