Tyler Adams focused on making his own mark, and not on filling other players' shoes

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The U.S. national team midfielder is still just 19, but after his breakout 2017, is ready to be a figurehead for the revamped Red Bulls

A year ago, Tyler Adams was seen as the young prospect with the unenviable task of trying to replace a fan favorite and MLS All-Star in former New York Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty. A year later, Adams has emerged as someone capable of much more. His evolution as a player is now much less about the guys who have come before him, and now is about one of Major League Soccer's brightest prospects casting his own shadow.

Adams enters 2018 with much different expectations having set the bar high for himself after a breakout 2017. And as much as Sacha Kljestan's departure from the Red Bulls might lead some to think Adams will spend another season helping fill a void left by a star player's departure, he doesn't quite see things that way.

"You see people talking about 'Are you going to fill his shoes' and I think that for myself, there's no shoes to fill in my mind," Adams told Goal. "In my mind I'm going to be the player that I'm going to be, and I'm completely different than all those players. Obviously they're both great players, but I want to be my own player and I'm going to try and fill any void or gap that we have now and do it off of my own game."

No, the Red Bulls aren't counting on Adams to replace Kljestan — Alejandro Romero Gamarra has been signed to do that — but Adams enters the new season expected to be one of the team's leaders despite having just turned 19 earlier in February. That seems like a lofty set of responsibilities for someone his age, but last year saw him skyrocket from promising Red Bulls prospect to one of the most exciting young talents in the American soccer pipeline.

Adams enjoyed a dream 2017, one which included his emergence as an MLS starter, his impressive showing at the Under-20 World Cup, and eventually his first U.S. national team appearance. Along the way he has quickly developed a reputation in MLS circles as a young player with the fearlessness and attitude to become a dominant player.

"Over the last six months, (Adams) has been put in situations that could be overwhelming for a player his age and with his lack of experience. Yet, no matter what the situation is, you don't ever get the sense that he's overwhelmed by the challenge," Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles told Goal. "If anything, he embraces it, and because he embraces it in that way, it brings confidence to the group. We're not thinking we're just putting a young player in there that could get caught up or swept up by what's happening. We're putting in someone that's capable. It doesn't matter how young or inexperienced he is. He's capable.

"That sort of characteristic lends to thinking that this person has greatness in his future. I'm one of those people and I think absolutely, that he's not just great for the Red Bull organization, but U.S. Soccer in general."

GFX Quote PS Luis Robles on Tyler Adams

Adams' poise has helped him make a smooth transition to the pro game, but so has a temperament that some coaches around MLS admiringly call "mean." It is a fearlessness and on-field relentlessness that belies his baby face.

"This would go back to when he was 15 when I first met him. You could tell he was different," Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch told Goal. "It wasn't just that he was athletic and was a good player. It was that he believed he was going to be a good player. That maturity and that self-belief that he has lends itself towards him continuing to grow in a big way."

When asked if he could think of a young player who Adams reminded him of in terms of mentality, Marsch brought up long-time U.S. national team standout and Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley, who Marsch saw develop from his earliest days.

 

"Michael Bradley was always very locked in to his process," Marsch said. "At a young age, he was very mature, but they have a different kind of intensity. Michael's intensity is very, I think, inner-focused and over the years he's had to teach himself to expand outside of himself. Tyler has a real ease to his inner focus, his ability to integrate within a group, his appreciation for people around him. He's social. He's a balanced young man. I think that will help him integrate and adapt to whatever situation he's in."

That much was clear after the recent U.S. national team camp in January. Adams was one of the standouts of that camp, following up his November national team debut with a second straight start and solid showing as the team's youngest player.

"Getting called into January camp was obviously a huge opportunity for myself, and obviously you can never take those opportunities for granted," Adams said. "I thought I had a strong camp, and was rewarded with a start against Bosnia. In the game against Bosnia obviously a lot of things we could have done better, and a lot of things you'd like to see improve, but I think as a whole it's good to get a lot of young guys on the field. Going from that point on it will be fun to figure out individually how I fit in that team going forward, and then collectively trying to help that team any way I can."

Tyler Adams USMNT 01282018

Adams adaptability was clear to see last year, when he was shifted into a right wing-back role by Marsch and thrived there, finishing the season as arguably the best right-sided fullback/wing back in MLS. Though central midfield remains his preferred position, the time spent on the right wing helped him round out his game.

"i think playing that wing-back position you're more an attacker than defender, which I wasn't really known for," Adams said. "I'm not really a 1-v-1 player so when I find myself out on the wing it's kind of abnormal to the game that I usually do play, but I think that adding that 1-v-1 ability, especially in certain situations because of my pace and athleticism, I got to find myself in unique situations and definitely got better at those situations."

Though he did well as a right wing back, his future lies in a central midfield role, where his quickness, tenacity and improving passing can make him a force. While Marsch agrees with the idea that Adams is very much a midfielder, he does plan on continuing to take advantage of Adams' versatility, and his growth as a player.

"Our goal is to play him more in the middle of the midfield this year, but I still think there will be times when we do use him out wide," Marsch told Goal. "We'll just have to look at each week and realize where we're at and figure out how to get the best out of our team in that particular week. Tyler is the type of person and player that grows each day and each week. I expect that, a year from now, we'll be talking about a very different player than we are right now."

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