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D.C. United season review: Lloyd Sam

Sam’s role changed after United’s transfer window splash, and now it’s unclear whether he’ll be back or not

With most previous articles in this series, we’ve been asking D.C. United fans a simple question: Do you want a given player back for 2018? In the case of Bill Hamid, it was more of a case of “would you want him back if such a thing were possible?,” but close enough. This piece on Lloyd Sam is the first where fans will be tackling the same question the club itself has apparently not yet resolved.

Sam’s arrival in the summer of 2016 made a lot of sense. United needed more creativity opposite Patrick Nyarko, and Sam had been one of the Black-and-Red’s chief tormentors during his time with the New York Red Bulls. Sam, who was said to initially upset with the move, picked himself up and was promptly an outstanding contributor to an attack that went from moribund to the highest-scoring group in the league from mid-August onward.

While there was a bit of a question mark around his age (Sam turned 33 during this past season), fans were emphatic in last year’s version of this story. 143 of the 151 votes were a “yes” on the English-born winger’s return. Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan for Sam or anyone else with United this past season. 2 goals and 6 assists in 30 total appearances is not a bad haul, but Sam had posted the same assist total and added a goal in just 13 appearances last year. It was a step down.

How much of that was simply United’s overall inability to attack successfully, and how much of that was Sam losing something from his game? Sam’s effectiveness seemed to dip whenever Nyarko wasn’t on the opposite flank, providing a contrast in styles and a good target for crosses at the back post. Still, the only player on the team to produce more key passes per 90 was Zoltan Stieber, and while Sam was not quite the dribbling threat he’d been in 2016, he still drew plenty of fouls. On top of that, Sam was the team’s one decent deliverer of set pieces (at least until Stieber’s arrival).

With Stieber and Paul Arriola coming in, Sam’s role became oft-used sub rather than surefire starter, and that seems fair. He can’t match Arriola’s speed or seemingly bottomless work rate, and Stieber seems to be a clear upgrade in terms of technique and creativity. However, Sam managed to make a difference off the bench, including a game-winning assist against New England during the three-game winning streak in August.

It is understandable that United want to look for a discount on a player who isn’t going to be a starter in 2018. Sam’s $240,000 base/$250,000 guaranteed salary, for a team that suddenly has to adjust to life with at least two Designated Players, is unwieldy for a sub. However, Sam is said to be a positive force in the locker room, and has quietly managed 5 goals and 12 assists in 2,996 minutes with United (that’s just under one full 34 game season). If United were to opt to move on, they’d need to replace him and Nyarko, and right now they’d enter the offseason with Bruno Miranda as their only option for a winger off the bench.

Next season, if Sam were retained, one would imagine his role would be to back up Stieber as United’s more clever winger while Arriola and either Miranda or an unnamed back-up were the speed options. That’s really not a bad situation, and having to start less often and play fewer minutes might help Sam extend his career.

While I did hear and read some claims that Sam had lost a step, I don’t think that was the case. Rather, United’s attack was overall more predictable. Sam wasn’t really that fast when he got here, and this year he became the second threat on the team once Nyarko’s season was prematurely ended. Sam is probably not quite capable of being that guy, but as a complimentary piece playing on a team with an upgrade on the opposite flank and up front? If my position that he hasn’t really lost a step is accurate, then it seems fair to expect an uptick in his performance.

There’s room for disagreement on this one, though, and if United shared that view, Sam probably would have been signed to a new deal already (or, at the very least, we’d have heard “United is already engaged in talks” this week). So let’s settle how we feel on this one:


Do you want Lloyd Sam back for the 2018 season?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    (59 votes)
  • 49%
    (58 votes)
117 votes total Vote Now