Ex-Charlton and Leeds winger Lloyd Sam becoming key playmaker in MLS

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The New York Red Bulls wide man has been tasked with adding an extra dimension to his game in 2015.

With two goals in two games to start the 2015 MLS season, New York Red Bulls winger Lloyd Sam is one figure stepping up in the club's post-Thierry Henry era.

Since his arrival in August 2012, Sam’s assimilation to MLS has been a somewhat slow process, with cruciate ligament damage restricting his first campaign to a mere five appearances.

As a result, most of 2013 was spent attempting to get back up to full speed, as the former England Under-20 international earned just eight starts in 22 games during the Red Bulls' Supporters’ Shield-winning campaign – their first-ever major piece of silverware.

The awaited breakthrough came last season, though, as Sam became a regular in Mike Petke’s line-up and one of the league’s most consistent wide men, starting all but two matches during the club’s run to the Eastern Conference Championship, while adding four goals and nine assists in the process.

A 4-3 aggregate defeat to the New England Revolution would result in a new general manager and Petke’s firing, however, and, with captain Henry and fellow star man Tim Cahill also departing during the offseason, a dramatic rebuild under new head coach Jesse Marsch followed.

Sam has remained at Red Bull Arena in the meantime, though, and, with Marsch challenging him to retool his game and add a different dimension to the attack, the ex-Charlton Athletic and Leeds United man has so far risen to the task.

After scoring a speculator Goal of the Week-contender in the 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City in the season opener, the 30-year-old speedster added another strike to his collection in the weekend’s 2-0 home win over rivals D.C. United to underline the new role he’s taken up.

Speaking in his post-match press conference about Sam’s importance to the side, coach Marsch explained: “What we’ve talked to Lloyd about is not just being a sideline player.

“He can’t just only come alive when the ball comes to his feet. We want him coming inside at times; we want him making forward runs to see if he can be the final man – along with being crafty when one-on-one in wide positions.

“Again, we’re trying to add to players’ repertoires and make sure they’re not just one-dimensional. I think he’s grasped these concepts well and I think he’s only going to get better.

“He likes what we’re trying to do to him; he understands what we’re trying to achieve and he’s brought in.”

The same could also be said for 2014 Golden Boot-winner Bradley Wright-Phillips, who, after scoring a single-season record-equalling 27 goals last term with the help of Henry’s assists, has been tasked with becoming much more than just a poacher.

That much was evident in the win over United, when he not only scored the opener but also delivered the assist for Sam’s 70th-minute strike, as well as recording four key passes over the course of the 90 minutes.

Along with new captain Dax McCarty and winter signing Sacha Kljestan, the English duo’s form will likely prove crucial in determining whether the club can return to the playoffs with Henry gone and, judging from the opening weeks of the campaign, things are looking promising.

With Wright-Phillips the team’s only proven scorer, though, Sam will need to keep producing over the coming months but, if he does continue his current form, then one can imagine a few individual accolades coming his way at the end of the season.

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