LLOYD SAM: AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK

LLOYD SAM: AN ENGLISHMAN IN NEW YORK
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At the end of the 2011/12 campaign Leeds-born Lloyd Sam found himself without a club after being released by his hometown side at the end of his contract. Having spent part of the season at Notts County - and becoming a hit with the Magpies faithful - Sam issued a 'come and get me' plea to then County manager Keith Curle. Although he would have loved the pacey winger to head to the midlands, Curle concluded that his small budget made any move unlikely.

As Sam waited patiently for a move to materialise and trained with Portsmouth to maintain his fitness levels, a call came from an unlikely source: New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer. Sam was invited to the city that never sleeps for a trial.

Initially unsure about uprooting to the United States of America, he was persuaded to grasp this opportunity with both hands by former Red Bulls striker Luke Rodgers, who refers to his time at the Red Bull Arena as "the happiest I have been in football". After impressing in a reserve team match against DC United, Sam was offered a contract for the remainder of the 2012 season in August and officially signed a day later.

The winger, raised in London, has had a decent career thus far. Coming through the youth ranks at Charlton Athletic, he signed his first professional contract in 2003 before gaining a small amount of first team experience on loan at Leyton Orient in early 2004. The following season Alan Curbishley handed Sam his Charlton debut on the final day of the Premier League season against Crystal Palace.

He featured a further nine times at England's highest level between 2005 and 2007, with loan moves at Sheffield Wednesday and Southend United in between during the 2006/07 season. However, Sam was given his opportunity to shine the following season under Iain Dowie after the Addicks suffered relegation from the Premier League. He featured regularly as Charlton were relegated once again - this time to League One - in 2009, before playing a key part during the 2009/10 season as the Londoners suffered defeat in the play-offs at the hands of Swindon Town.

During his time at Charlton Sam featured for England Under-20s before switching  allegiance to Ghana, his parents' place of birth. Having been called up to the full squad in 2010 for a friendly played at Leyton Orient, Sam had to withdraw from the squad due to injury. 

After failing to secure a new contract at the Valley following their play-off failure, Leeds United came calling and Sam returned to his place of birth. Over the course of his debut season, the winger started to forge himself a regular place in the first eleven at Elland Road before a recurring leg injury caused him to miss large chunks of the 2010/11 campaign. Sam struggled to regain his place in the team the following season and joined Notts County in March 2012. 

Sam blossomed at Meadow Lane, scoring five times in ten appearences including a hat-trick against Yeovil Town. After being released by Leeds, Sam was weighing up a couple of offers on home soil before the Red Bulls came calling.

After joining up with his new team-mates Sam found himself thrust into action almost immediately, making his debut as a substitute on August 29th 2012 in a 2-2 draw against DC United. His first start came exactly a month later in a 4-1 victory over Toronto FC, contributing in Red Bulls' second goal as he threaded a neat through ball through to Thierry Henry, who teed up Kenny Cooper for a simple tap-in.

The Englishman's season was over a month later as he started in Red Bulls' 0-0 draw with Sporting Kansas City but was withdrawn in the 77th minute with a suspected knee injury, later revealed to be posterior cruciate ligament damage.

Despite his limited playing time during the 2012 season, Sam impressed the Red Bulls support with his pace and energetic displays and was rewarded with a new contract in January. It was revealed by Red Bulls sporting director, Andy Roxburgh, that he would be fit for pre-season.

Sam was indeed fit for pre-season but newly appointed head coach, Mike Petke, felt that the winger was not working hard enough in training to merit a place in the matchday squads. Petke stated that Sam needed to improve his fitness and mentality levels to stand any chance of breaking into the squad.

He eventually made his first appearance of the season as a late substitute in the 1-0 defeat at Montreal Impact and also gained a little pitch time in the following games against Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire. However, he was an unused substitute in the following two games and questions were starting to be asked by the Red Bulls faithful.

Up to this point in the season the Red Bulls' form had been patchy at best, with many claiming their attack had become one dimensional and predictable. This prompted many fans and local media to question why Petke was continually overlooking Sam when it was starting to become clear that the side was crying out for his pace. Petke finally relented and threw the winger on midway through the second half in a 4-1 victory over New England Revolution. The move was praised; Sam earned positive reviews for his performance.

A week later he was handed his first start for six months in a 2-1 victory at BMO Field against Toronto FC. Sam put in a decent performance and was evidently overjoyed at making the starting eleven.

Dropping back to the bench for the 1-0 and 2-1 victories over Columbus Crew and Montreal Impact respectively, a potential turning point in the career of Lloyd Sam came as he made the starting eleven in May against New England Revolution. 

New England took the lead in the 54th minute through Diego Fagundez. Just a minute later, The Red Bulls had levelled the score through Sam's first goal for the New Yorkers. Picking the ball up just inside the penalty area from an Andre Akpan pass, Sam controlled it with his left foot, poked it forward with his right  before drilling a low angled shot past Revs goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.

Understandably delighted to net his first MLS goal, Sam stated in the following days that he finally felt he was moving in the right direction. With his fitness levels returning to where Petke had demanded they be, and with the games coming thick and fast as NYRB sit pretty at the top of the Eastern Conference, Sam may well find himself becoming a real star at Red Bull Arena as the countdown to the playoffs begins.

You can follow Jamie on Twitter: @jamie_ward84

(Photograph by Paul Lowry via Flickr)

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