Gotta go to Mo: Adams off to strong start with Chicago Fire

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – It has taken him a couple of months to work his way into the plans of head coach Veljko Paunovic, but rookie Mo Adams is hoping to show the consistency that will make him an integral part of the Chicago Fire midfield in his maiden year in MLS.

The former Derby County youth player and Syracuse University alum has had to be patient, watching from the substitutes’ bench for the first six games before being called for his first appearance — and start — at the New York Red Bulls on April 21.

The Englishman took his place alongside MLS veteran Dax McCarty in a defensive pairing anchor and didn’t look out of place during what was an accomplished, all-action introduction to the professional ranks. That performance, in a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Red Bull Arena, earned him a spot in the starting lineup against defending MLS Cup champions Toronto FC, and once again the 21-year-old produced a mature and dynamic performance to drive the Fire to a dramatic late 2-2 tie.

“Yeah, I’m thrilled,” Adams told MLSsoccer.com. “I’ve worked hard to finally get an opportunity and whenever you get an opportunity you must take it. I’ve gone out on the field, both games away at the Red Bulls in a tough environment and obviously against the champions in Toronto, and performed very well and we’ve got two results in both games. Four points from two games isn’t bad, especially away from home, and now we’re just excited for the home game against Atlanta.”

Adams, a two-year starter at Syracuse where he studied sports management, was drafted at No. 10 in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, behind teammate Jon Bakero (No. 5) and ahead of Diego Campos (No. 39) and Elliot Collier (No. 49), all of whom had made their Fire debuts ahead of the Nottingham-born defensive midfielder.

“He’s doing well, he’s doing what we expected from him, he’s given very good performances in midfield and defensively especially he’s doing a great job,” Paunovic told MLSsoccer.com. “He also got better in the organization of the game, of the play on the other side of the ball, and that’s very important. Youngsters that are working hard and getting the opportunities, they hold to it and they can give good performances, it’s a great example for the rest of their teammates and also a strong message from us, from the staff that we really pay attention to their development. And if they are paying attention, they are getting better, obviously they are going to get opportunities and that’s how the team should be built.”

Adams has had the benefit of settling into a midfield in which McCarty is a fixture and in front of a defense that includes German veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has excelled since his switch to a sweeper role this season. And he has been keen to glean as much as he can from both players, who have made a big impression on him since his arrival in Chicago.

“Basti is playing in a different role right now as a sweeper and Dax is beside me, but I think the main thing is getting the information from Basti,” Adams said. “He’s always telling me ‘left shoulder, right shoulder,’ telling me where to track runners and stuff like that. And with Dax, he’s always available, so he makes my job easier with his defensive positioning so it makes me do less running. At the same time, he’s always available for a pass. So these are the little things that you can pick up. I think that the awareness of positioning on the field is key.”

Adams appears to have leapfrogged above offseason addition Tony Tchani, Drew Conner and Brandt Bronico for that second defensive midfield position that Paunovic has favored which, flanked by attack-minded fullbacks, gives a forward trio license to attack when they can.

“Mo Adams is doing a good job, he deserves his chance to play and he helped us in the two games,” Schweinsteiger told MLSsoccer.com. “But also Tony Tchani before, he was helping us in the other games. So it doesn’t matter who is actually on the field, the coach always decides who is going to play against that team and maybe two weeks later it’s a different formation. But obviously we are very happy and I am very happy to see the rookies playing like they do.”

On a personal level, Adams has never lacked self-belief, despite the early setbacks in his career that prompted his move to the collegiate game in the USA. It is a path that many more British and European players with aspirations to play professionally are taking, and one that Adams has said is “the best decision I’ve ever made.”

For this season, his main focus is staying in the starting XI, establishing himself in Paunovic’s plans and helping the Fire return to the playoffs for two years running.

“I think for me personally, now that I’ve got my shot in the team, it’s just to remain consistent and just try and play as well as I can and I think everything else will take care of itself,” Adams said. “But I’m all about the team, the team is the priority for me, so [hopefully] we can make that push and get into the playoffs and see where that takes us.”