A decade after moving from the east African nation of Eritrea to England with his family, Mo Adams was on the precipice of realizing his dream of becoming a professional soccer player.
Then, in an instant, it was all stamped away under the studs of a vicious training-ground tackle.
“I’m just running down the line about to put a cross in, I chop it back and a guy absolutely smashes my ankle," Adams told MLSsoccer.com last week. "I end up snapping four ligaments. I can’t walk, get carried off the field on a stretcher. At that moment, I knew this might change a lot of things."
The devastation cannot be understated.
Adams had been on trial with the Blackburn Rovers for two weeks after Derby County elected not to give him a professional contract. It was going well. Following the previous session, Blackburn had pledged to sign the then-18-year-old.
But ink had yet to be put to paper.
"They sent me home a couple days and gave me a phone call," Adams recounted. "‘Hey, we’ve looked at your scans and everything. It’s tough, but you didn’t sign the contract or anything, so it’s going to be tough to sign you.’"
They told him to rehab and, maybe when he's fit, they'll try again.
“I was absolutely gutted," Adams said. "First and foremost, you get a flashback of all the work you’ve put in throughout your whole life, being there and it getting snatched away from you at the last second. It crushed me. ... Everyone loves a great story when you bounce back. I looked at the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Adams, 22, is at the beginning of his second season with the Fire, who selected the former Syracuse standout with the No. 10 overall selection in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. He made 15 appearances last season, though he had to wait a month for his MLS debut in 2018. It was a similar story in 2019 to start the season.
The tenacious midfielder didn't see the field over the Fire's first three games, in which the club went 0-2-1 with seven goals conceded, and was loaned to USL Championship side Memphis 901 FC in March. But he started the next three — in which the club went 1-0-2 with three goals conceded. Last weekend he came off the bench to shore up a 4-1 win over the Colorado Rapids.
“The team is priority," Adams said. "For me, it’s just to know what my role is within the team. I’m not a flashy player — I’m not going to score from the halfway line or take five players on, no matter how much I wish I could do that. You need to know what you’re good at. What I’m good at is making life difficult for my opponents, not giving them space to play or have any joy on the field.”
Adams is very good at doing just that to the best players in MLS. Over a total of just 13 career starts, he's often been tasked almost singlehandily with nullifying the likes of Ignacio Piatti, Miguel Almiron and most recently, Alejandro Pozuelo.
“We have more defensive solidness and energy in the midfield [when Adams is on the field]. He helps the defensive cohesion between our midfield and defense," head coach Veljko Paunovic told MLSsoccer.com. "He’s very helpful.
“His strengths are reading the game, timing to engage and he has a very good transition from attack to defense," Paunovic added.
Adams is still striving to improve; he's the first to say it. He wants to expand his abilities in possession, dictating the game from defensive midfield, and take more risks with passes forward.
Who better to learn from than Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty?
“It’s clear to see their way of thinking about soccer," Adams explained. "For example, when I play with Schweinsteiger and he has a guy on him, I can give him the ball. His decision-making is always spot on. That’s what I’m trying to learn from him.”
He added that Schweinsteiger and McCarty have helped improve subtleties in his game like body shape, how to find pockets of space and — perhaps a foreign concept to the industrious midfielder — do a little less running sometimes. He has weekly film sessions with McCarty and an assistant coach.
“They’ve helped me a lot," Adams said. "It’s a dream come true to play alongside them.”
After Adams rehabbed his injury sustained while on trial with Blackburn, he began playing with a team deep down the tiers of English soccer. He realized those around him didn't share the same dream of becoming professional, so he needed a change.
“I played one college showcase game and I think I got 10 offers," Adams said. "It was nice to feel wanted after a while of rejection.”
Adams decided it might be worth a shot to go to America and play college soccer, even though it hardly would guarantee a professional dream down the road, with many MLS front offices putting less of an emphasis on roster-building through the SuperDraft in recent years.
“To me, I don’t really care if you have 10 years experience over me," Adams said. "When we’re on the same field, we’re competing for the same thing. Have respect but try to earn people’s respect. It resonates with the coaching staff and your teammates. I came in and just tried to be myself. It’s worked out for me.”
Adams carved a role out for himself last season and is doing the same in 2019. He remains focused on continuing to improve, continuing to climb, staying completely unsatisfied and striving for more.
“I think I went home for a week this offseason," Adams said. "I went to Denver to train with a bunch of pros. It was a fun atmosphere. I didn’t want to go home, be lazy and enjoy it too much. I had a mission I wanted to achieve here.”
Four years after that fateful day in North West England, Adams is still on a mission. How far can it take him?