by DAVE MARTINEZ
HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls stalled in the final third, stumbled with their limited chances and struggled to find an attacking identity throughout their match against the Portland Timbers on Sunday evening.
Part of that came down to Gonzalo Veron’s injection to the starting XI. But most of it had to do with the departure of Lloyd Sam.
“You know with Lloyd, yeah, it may take some time [to adjust to his absence],” head coach Jesse Marsch admitted following Sunday’s scoreless draw. “I mean, I’ve said publicly that I really liked my relationship with Lloyd and he is a great personality and a guy that served this club in a big way. And so I’m hopeful that — I think the group understands why the move was made and now it’s up to us to take it forward from here”
With Sam in the starting XI, the Red Bulls had a certain comfort and certainty on the right side of their attack. After five years with the club, there were little questions about Sam’s form or place within the Red Bulls’ high-press system.
But certainty was missing this Sunday. New York went left-heavy in their offensive forays, searching for comfort through stalwart Mike Grella. They tried to mask their inefficiency in attack by switching from a three man front to a dual striker formation in hopes of sparking Veron and their overall offensive efficiency. Despite some promising moments, it was clear New York were simply uncomfortable with a relatively new face in their starting XI, and their offense became predictable because of it.
After the match, Red Bulls players were still visibly shaken by Sam’s unpredictable trade to D.C. United.
“Lloyd is one of my favorite players ever to play with. He is so creative. DC are lucky to have him. Hopefully, we don’t miss him too much,” Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “If I am honest, I was very close with Lloyd. It’s tough on me. To see him go from the locker room, it was hard on me, but this is football, we move on, he moves on. Good luck to him.”
“It’s difficult for everyone that he is gone because he was a great personality and player,” Mike Grella added. “But this happens in this business all the time and we need to flip the page.”
Team captain Dax McCarty also took a somber tone when discussing his former teammate. However, he expressed confidence in both Veron and Muyl in the hopes of replacing his old friend, Sam.
“We lost a great player. I think everyone will agree with that,” McCarty said. “I never got to comment on it. It’s sad. It’s part of the league and part of the tough decisions that go into running a team. Lloyd was a popular guy in the locker room. He is a good friend of mine, he has been around a long time and he has been really successful at this club. He deserves a lot of praise for what he did for us. It’s sad to see him move on and obviously he leaves a huge gap to fill.
“Losing a guy like that is tough and it will take a committee of guys to replace him. Alex Muyl is a guy that has done well. Gonzalo Veron has to get going and has to show the things that we saw in preseason out of him.
“We have full belief in those two guys to carry the load over there.”