The failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup brought a total redesign of the masterplan at the United States of America Football Federation, with a total overhaul of the squad and staff after the elimination in the CONCACAF Qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago.
It was truly an unexpected development, but sometimes, you have to get back to the roots and deliver unwanted changes to progress. This is what the USA did in the past four years before earning a berth for Qatar 2022, an intermediate objective before the FIFA World Cup heads to Canada, Mexico, and the USA.
Coach Gregg Berhalter was tasked with the enormous task of overhauling the squad and creating something from scratch and he truly delivered a masterpiece, qualifying the team in the Round of 16 at Qatar 2022 and putting together a young and hungry squad, which was the youngest in the competition, with an average age of the line-up not of under 25 years old.
No player epitomises the new direction and this plan for the USA team better than its captain, Tyler Adams, a 23-year-old midfield dynamo, who has already impressed in the Bundesliga and in the Premier League, becoming one of the most expensive American players in history in the summer of 2022, when Leeds United forked out $28 million to sign him from RB Leipzig.
But who is Adams, how did he get here and, especially, how was he named captain at such a young age and with only 36 caps under his belt for the USA team?
It is an unexpected rise to the occasion, as Adams became the youngest captain at Qatar 2022, but “when you start talking about the captain types, Tyler fits a very specific role. He’s the general, he’s the strategist. He’s the guy that goes out there and leads by example. When he talks, people listen,” according to USA’s coach, Gregg Berhalter.
Adams hails from a family who has a white mother and a Black father and could have played every sport he wanted, due to his athleticism and intelligence. He chose football and joined the New York Red Bulls’ academy in 2011 and was always earmarked as a future national team player.
“My mom had me when she was only 22 years old and my dad wasn’t around. We lived in Poughkeepsie, New York, which is about 75 miles north of New York City, and while we weren’t poor, we didn’t have much. We lived below my uncle in a small two-bedroom apartment. That’s where I’d sit in front of our TV and watch Thierry Henry score goal after goal for Arsenal at 6 a.m. on FOX Soccer Report,” said Adams in an op-ed on “The Players’ Tribune”.
But going to that football academy meant a lot of sacrifices: a 200-kilometre round trip from Poughkeepsie to Whippany, New Jersey, and plenty of dinners eaten in the car because the schedule was so tight.
However, nothing was going to deter Adams from his dream of becoming a professional football player. Instead, it was a huge motivation for him to develop even further and nurture his skills.
He made his professional debut at the New York Red Bulls aged 16 in a friendly match against Chelsea. Two years later, he was started in the MLS for the New York franchise and at only 20 years old, he was jettisoned to the parent club of the Red Bulls, RB Leipzig, where he reunited with his former coach, Jesse Marsch.
“I think just going back to when I was young, I was just very competitive. I didn’t really care whom I was playing against. I think the older guys probably hated playing against me, and to a certain extent, I ended up on their teams a lot of the time, so they didn’t have to play against me. So we created good relationships,” Adams said during a press conference.
Soon, Adams became a sought-after property and after featuring in 103 matches at RB Leipzig, he moved to Leeds United, in the Premier League, the toughest championship in the world, where, once again, is coached by Marsch.
There, he played once again brilliantly, and just before the 2022 FIFA World Cup, he was named captain of the USA national team at only 23 years old.
“We think he has great leadership capabilities and he leads by his actions and his words. Tyler’s a guy that’s just mature beyond his years, and you notice it from the minute you start talking to him. He’s a guy that teammates know exactly what they’re going to get from him. They know that he’s going to go out on the field and compete,” added Berhalter.
Indeed, Adams was truly a revelation for a team that drew against England, 0-0, and won against Iran, 1-0, in a game that Adams controlled perfectly.
“So yeah, it’s definitely evolved in a lot of different ways, but when I’m on the field, I’ll do anything to win. So, I just figure out how I can get the best out of all my players and just relate to them in different ways,” concluded Adams.
Sure, the USA might have been eliminated by the Netherlands, but they won two things at Qatar 2022. First, a generation that they are proud of and can develop even further for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
And second, a true captain, a general, a man that deserves to be in this position, Tyler Adams.