Not long ago, Tyler Adams' US men's national team colleague and Bundesliga foe Zack Steffen made waves when he said coach Gregg Berhalter's squad still lacked a team identity. But for the former New York Red Bulls' star Homegrown Player, it's not as simple as that.
While not targeting Steffen, Adams suggested in an interview with ESPN's "Banter" with Taylor Twellman posted Wednesday that those pleading for a clear U.S. identity also have to be willing to accept the bumps and bruises that come with the hard work to establish it.
"I think everybody knew what we were getting into after we didn’t qualify for the World Cup," the RB Leipzig talent told Twellman. "It was going to be a rebuilding process. It still is a process, right? You have a lot of young players coming in, with obviously Gregg, who is trying to continue to build our identity now.
"It’s so funny from being on the inside and obviously playing with that team, because people talk about, 'We want an identity, we want an identity.' Well, Gregg is coming in, he’s trying to put an identity onto the team, he’s continuously sticking his foot into the process to say this is the way we’re going to play, but then people get mad when the results don’t come right away. So you have to pick your battle. You have to say, 'OK do we want an identity and have to go through the struggles of building an identity and do what it takes? Or do we not want an identity, maybe the results come or they don't.'"
Berhalter's first full year at the helm of the US included some relative successes, most notably a run to the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup final. But it also included three losses to rivals Mexico, as well as home defeats in friendlies to Venezuela and Jamaica, and an away loss to Canada on Concacaf Nations League play that was eventually avenged in the return home fixture.
Berhalter fielded a youth-laden squad for the United States' only match to date in 2020, a friendly victory over Costa Rica. And while the COVID-19 pandemic that led to the suspension of Concacaf Nations League elimination play and wiped out a pair of spring friendlies could also delay World Cup Qualifying, Adams is all too aware that the next time he dons the Red, White and Blue could be with hopes of a trip to Qatar on the line. Originally, qualifying in the region was scheduled to begin in September.
"It’s unbelievably odd. For me it’s even more odd," said Adams, who hasn't appeared for the US since the spring of 2019 because of a mix of injuries and poor timing. "So now as I mentally prepare for it, I have to really prepare myself that the next time I put on the US jersey, it’s all or nothing. There’s no more preparation matches. It’s either you go out there and win or we’re not going to another World Cup. I think for a lot of guys it’s going to be different. You might see guys get called into a qualifier that have never been into camp before, but just have to find a way to get your best players on the field."
After Twellman's interview was recorded, Adams was a late addition to Leipzig's starting XI during a 2-2 Bundesliga draw against Hertha Berlin, playing a full 90 minutes for the first time since Feb. 9. Of note to USMNT fans, he started the game at right back, the same position where Berhalter has appeared to favor him.
Adams told Twellman he believes he is still best as a holding midfielder, but capable of success in both roles.
"For me it’s where I’m able to do what I’m best at," Adams said. "You go onto the field and you feel almost free in a sense. It’s natural, everything is natural. When I play, obviously right back, right wing back, I’m definitely capable of playing there, I can have success there I believe. But I think there’s obviously still little things where you go into a game and you’re like, yeah this hinders me a little bit, ... all these little things where you can’t take as much risk. That’s obviously something that I think about a lot."