NEW YORK – Watch Tyler Adams play and any number of his qualities might stand out, be it his impressive range, ability to deliver a crunching tackle, or solid skills with the ball.
The youngster’s most impressive attribute, however, might be his fearlessness.
Despite being just 18 years old, Adams has been one of MLS’s biggest revelations to this point in the season. A key ingredient in him shining for the New York Red Bulls through the first half of the campaign is his bold demeanor. The central midfielder has demonstrated a hard-nosed and fiery attitude rarely seen in teenagers still fairly new to the professional ranks, but those who have been around the Homegrown player know that Adams’ strong will isn’t a new personality trait.
It’s part of Adams’ DNA.
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“The very first moment I trained with him I was saying, ‘How is this kid 16 years old? If I was 16 years old and I had this mindset, I’d be playing on a different level,” Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles said of his initial impression of Adams. “That’s what sticks out each and every day with Tyler. There’s a certain part that you just can’t teach and part of that is the tenacity, the fight. He doesn’t in any way expect to lose a ball, and there’s a fearlessness to him that’s impressive.
“It’s impressed upon me, it’s impressed upon other guys on the team, and as he continues to grow I hope that fearlessness refines itself into leadership. If that happens, then not only are we going to benefit, but the US men's national team will benefit.”
Where exactly does Adams’ audacious nature come from? Not from either of his parents, nor a sibling, nor his upbringing. Instead, it’s something he developed on his own while growing up and playing soccer.
“That’s kind of just self-originated,” said Adams. “That’s something that’s happened over the years. I’m just super competitive and that’s one of those things that really irks me, if we’re losing or if you give a bad pass away. I always get on myself about those kinds of things.”
Opposing MLS players have also caught first-hand glimpses of the 5-foot-9 Adams’ feistiness this year. One example is Bastian Schweinsteiger, who collided with Adams on a play earlier this season when the Red Bulls hosted the Chicago Fire. Schweinsteiger tried to give a hand to Adams immediately afterwards, but the peeved teenager ignored the World Cup-winning veterans’ gesture.
The sequence was a peak into Adams’ mentality. Respect your opponent, but not too much.
“Someone does me dirty on the field, obviously I’m not just going to show them the respect because of all the things that he’s accomplished,” said Adams. “Obviously he’s a great player and after the game I’m going to shake his hand just like everybody else, but on the field during the moment it’s game time.”
“It’s kind of like a switch in my head,” he added. “Once I step on the field, it doesn’t matter who is on the field, who I’m playing against or anything like that. I’m going to give it my all no matter what.”
Adams’ competitive mindset and skill set have plenty of fans, pundits, and scouts raving about his potential. He has not only looked mature beyond his years in his eight appearances in league play for the Red Bulls in 2017, but also for the US U-20 national team in both the CONCACAF U-20 Championship and recently-concluded U-20 World Cup.
The experiences gained from those tournaments, especially the latter, have admittedly helped Adams grow in confidence. Still, he knows there is plenty of room to evolve as both a person – he plans to start college courses in sports psychology on July 3 – and a player.
“I want to become more of a complete box-to-box midfielder and add more to the attack while doing more defensively as well,” said Adams, who’s said he models his game after Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita. “But I think that just takes time and as I mature a little bit I’ll figure certain things out like that.”
Adams’ next chance to impress will come on Saturday afternoon, as the Red Bulls welcome archrivals New York City FC to Red Bull Arena (1:30 pm ET, FOX in the US, MLS LIVE in Canada). The match could pit Adams against young NYCFC midfielder Yangel Herrera for the second time in a few weeks after the duo met in the U-20 World Cup quarterfinals, and Adams is eager to play the Venezuelan again after suffering an early foot injury that forced him out of that US defeat.
“I’ve watched him now in MLS games as well and I think he’s a great player, both offensively and defensively,” said Adams. “He’s kind of a true box-to-box midfielder in there, and he does a lot of the dirty work in there and he creates in the attack for them. Absolutely, going toe-to-toe with him will be good.”
The feeling is mutual.
“I think it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity to face him again,” said Herrera, “and I look forward to beating him again.”