Adams stars, Gonzalez sits on a night USMNT's youngsters out-shine Mexico's prospects

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The latest USA-Mexico clash was a showcase of young talents, and it was the U.S. national team that saw its youngsters step up and impress

On a night when two long-time rivals turned their latest clash into a showcase for their brightest prospects, it was the U.S. national team's youngsters who shined brighter than their Mexican counterparts on the way to a morale-boosting victory.

None shone brighter than Tyler Adams. The 19-year-old New York Red Bulls midfielder showed why European clubs are lining up to bid for him this winter — with RB Leipzig reported to be his ultimate destination — and he showed why he's established himself as one of the biggest prospects in the U.S. talent pipeline.

“You want to be in the middle of games like that," Adams said. "Ones that are chippy. Ones where you have to show your composure and match up against good players.

"It tests the quality of your team. For me to be thrown in a game like that, in front of 40,000 people, was a good experience."

His latest standout performance also came on a night when one of the bigger storylines was the USMNT facing former U.S. youth national team player and now Mexican national team midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez. While Adams spent Tuesday night dominating in the midfield, Gonzalez was stuck on the bench, reportedly carrying a knock, and never did get a chance to face his former teammate Adams.

It was probably just as well. If he had played observers would have had a chance to see the difference in quality between the two former teammates. It was Gonzalez, after all, who was cut from the U.S. Under-20 World Cup team, the same side Adams went on to be a key figure for at the World Cup.

On Tuesday, Adams' play in central midfield was key to keeping a dangerous Mexican side from finding easy looks. His lung-busting run to get on the end of an Antonee Robinson cross for the winning goal showed that he can contribute to the attack as well.

"This kid's a beast," U.S. interim coach Dave Sarachan said of Adams, who has started all seven USMNT matches since last November. "When you look at data and analytics and you look at the volume of work that he does in 90 minutes. You guys on the outside see a good part of it, but the data backs it up. He's a winner, this kid."

Sarachan quote

Despite being the second-youngest player on the U.S. team, Adams played like a veteran, even urging teammates on at halftime of a 0-0 match that saw Mexico enjoy the better of play up to that point.

“I think that we came in at halftime and we kind of figured that they’re a little bit too comfortable," Adams said. "Their centerbacks had time on the ball to hit diagonals that we’re running 70 yards where we don’t need to be doing that. So to step out in the right times and find certain triggers, whether it’s back pass or a bad touch, and see how we could measure up to defend that better.

"I think that we were able to get at them a little bit and when their midfielders got the ball, put a little pressure so they weren’t comfortable," Adams said. "Ultimately we were able to create a couple more chances, that final pass wasn’t there at times, but I think we picked off balls in better spots in the second half."

Adams really found his groove after Weston McKennie was forced out of the match in the 40th minute with a knee sprain, necessitating a tactical shift that moved Adams into a two-man defensive midfield partnership with Wil Trapp. Playing in his more natural position, Adams was able to put more of a stamp on the game, while still being able to impact the attack with sharp passes from deep and, obviously, with his late run to score the winner.

"I've been really pleased in terms of his growth with the ball in tight spots," Sarachan said of Adams. "We know that he can run and cover ground and win tackles and compete, but at the next level now can you do the next part and that is have a presence with the ball and picking your spots.

"He just keeps getting better. It's not perfect, but I think he's shown that he's emerging as a guy that everyone's starting to look up to a little bit. When the game's getting crazy Tyler was starting to try and calm it down. A real good night for him."

It was a good night for the rest of the U.S. team's younger players as well. Shaq Moore put in a strong shift at right back and Tim Weah was active and relentless in his pursuit of a goal. While the goal didn't come, his energy helped the U.S. match Mexico's effort before eventually exceeding it.

"There's certain things with Timmy. He's got tools and he was hungry to get on the end of something tonight," Sarachan said. "You could tell. I keep repeating, for all these players who we think have a real future, these moments are going to add up in a positive way."

For 21-year-old Antonee Robinson, Tuesday offered some vindication. After getting beaten on the eventual game-winning goal against Brazil on Friday, he shook that off, came off the bench and delivered the winning assist on Adams' goal.

"With Antonee, I was quick to pull him aside after that game against Brazil because I know everyone was very harsh on him." Sarachan said. "He had some pretty good moments in that game, but people remember the moment that wasn't so good. That's going to happen with every player and I think with him, he still has an inner confidence and you can see it. He even made a couple mistakes tonight, but generally very good. As an athlete you want to get back on the horse when you get knocked off it and I thought he did great."

For most of the U.S. team's youngest players, Tuesday was the first taste of the USA-Mexico rivalry on the senior team level, and it provided many of the elements synonymous with the rivalry, including heated exchanges and red cards. When tempers began boiling over in the second half, reaching their peak after a nasty Angel Zaldivar tackle on Wil Trap — which drew a red card — the U.S. never got pulled into the type of extra-curricular stuff that could have distracted the team. 

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"I do think our guys showed great composure," Sarachan said. "I think that's one of the things going into games against CONCACAF opponents is having composure in moments where it could lead to a red card or something. They got a good taste of it tonight."

Just as impressive as the composure was the young U.S. team's desire to defeat the program's arch-nemesis, especially in front of a crowd of more than 40,000 where more than half of the fans in attendance were rooting for Mexico. The U.S. team's new generation responded to their first taste of the USA-Mexico rivalry in a way that has to have fans more excited about the future.

"I don't think they would have been very happy with a draw tonight, which is a good sign for this group," Sarachan said. "They want to win every time they step on the field. Sometimes that's the innocence of youth, but it's good."

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