HARRISON, N.J. – Tyler Adams is still just a teenager but the 19-year-old New York Red Bulls midfielder is already talking about mentoring younger players and taking on a leadership role with his club.
When the world met Adams in 2015, the former Red Bulls Academy player was signing with New York Red Bulls II as the USL side’s first ever player. He had braces – they were red to honor his team – and he was still in high school. Adams would shuffle his feet when he spoke with reporters and would chuckle at questions, self-deprecating and enjoying the moment. On the field, he struggled at times with the physicality of the USL and the speed of play but the technical staff never wavered in their belief in him as a player.
Now as he enters his fourth season within the franchise, Adams is twice capped by the US national team and his emergence as a starter with the Red Bulls last year portends a growing role in the team — a role that Adams says now includes not just a spot in the starting XI but also a stronger voice within the locker room.
And while he remains one of the younger players on the team, he now is one of the more established names in a locker room that has seen a fair amount of recent change and upheaval. All of which means that the still-boyish looking Adams is now thrust into a role of not just prominence but responsibility on a Red Bulls side that opens MLS play this weekend vs. Portland after facing Tijuana in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals Tuesday night (10 pm ET; UDN, go90).
“[I] had the ability to learn from a lot of the true veterans in the league,” Adams said. “I think that for myself now, playing more of a leadership role going into the season, showing some of the younger guys, even younger than me now – guys like Ben Mines – is more important to me than anything. Showing them the way they’re getting to fit into the system at some point in the season in one way or another, is really important to me. The energy in the locker room now is good. We’re excited to get the MLS season started.”
Tyler Adams hopes his teammates will lean on him in 2018 | USA Today Images
Offseason trades of last year’s captain Sacha Kljestan and Felipe clearly show the Red Bulls believe in Adams as not just a young prospect but a building block for this team. Two years ago, the trade of captain Dax McCarty to the Chicago Fire was met with hand-wringing by many fans and pundits but the move opened up minutes for Adams as well as fellow academy product Sean Davis.
Now with the Red Bulls moving two established, high-end midfielders over the past two months, Adams’ role will continue to grow as the team leans more on him.
He’s most comfortable playing in the center of the midfield, a role he found himself in during his time in the USL and throughout his progression with the youth national team. He played there for much of last year, shuttling between Felipe, who was the deep-lying destroyer, and Kljestan, who is one of the top playmakers in the league.
At times, however, Adams was called upon to play as a wingback and that was his primary role down the stretch and through the playoffs for New York. He found success there, using his speed and ability to carry the ball up the field to provide the Red Bulls with some much-needed width to their attack.
“I think it will be interesting,” Adams said. “First and foremost, figuring what formation we’re going to play and sticking to a certain formation. We know that we have the ability to change formations within a game and a lot of guys are able to play different roles.
“I played in multiple roles last year. I think I’m most comfortable as a 6. Being the anchor of the team, being able to break up plays and start the counterattacks that we often have through our high press, high-reward system will be important. I think that secondly, being an 8 is something that I’ve played with in the national team a little bit. There was a need with the national team in the two camps I do have. I think going into this season I’ll see myself more central but I know I have the versatility to help in other areas.”
While 2017 was a coming of age for Adams, this year might be the year that firmly establishes him as a cornerstone of the US national team.
He called his first USMNT cap against Portugal last November “humbling," saying that experience gives him greater confidence going into this year. With the national team’s obvious reshuffling after failing to qualify for this summer’s World Cup, Adams and others will see greater minutes this spring and summer as the program accelerates the development of young players.
With that national team exposure coupled with his visibility in MLS as a regular starter at 19, Adams has already been linked to several big clubs in Europe. While nothing has materialized beyond interest and tracking the player, his continued growth will surely see more rumors pop up over the coming months.
“My eyes are all focused on what I’m doing here right now,” he said. “Obviously I have ambitions of playing at the highest level and that is no secret to anybody. If that opportunity arises, we’ll deal with at it that time. For me, it’s a matter of getting games and being able to develop.
“And for me, there is no better way to develop than with my hometown club. Last year I was able to play an integral part and this year I’m hoping to play an even bigger part.”