By Sean Hartnett
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Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams is determined to make the most out of every opportunity that comes his way. The 18-year-old Wappingers Falls, New York, native speaks with the confidence and poise of a 10-year veteran despite only having 15 career MLS appearances to his name.
Mentality plays an enormous role in separating the talented youngsters who go on to accomplish great things and those who fail to live up to their potential. Adams is a soccer junkie who is addicted to being on the pitch. He draws inspiration from the killer instinct displayed by NBA icon Kobe Bryant throughout a 20-year career. Bryant never switched off his 100 percent focus on the court and worked meticulously in the gym to perfect his game. That’s something Adams tries to emulate in training and in matches.
“He’s known for having the ‘Mamba mentality,’” Adams said of Bryant. “He’s in the gym training before anyone else even got there so his opponents would fear him and know that he’s ready to go as much as they are. It’s the mentality that athletes should have if they want to be the best. You try to replicate that mentality.
“Whenever I can get on the field and do extra work, I’ll take that opportunity. Sometimes after training, I’ll come home and I’ll work with my brothers on the field. They’ll ask me to go to the field and I’ll say ‘absolutely.’ Any time I can get on the field and try to improve some of the things I’m doing, I’ll take that opportunity. Whether I can study the game, be watching the game, be playing on the field – that’s always something I want to be doing.”
Though Adams is quickly developing into an all-around midfielder, his greatest asset is his box-to-box motor. When opponents fade late in matches, Adams is tenacious and a never-tiring ball of energy for 90 minutes.
“Around the 60th-minute mark when guys start to tire off, I’m just getting going,” Adams said. “Along with my mentality, the kind of never-giving-up sort of thing and that drive I have in everything I do – not even just sports — and the will to success is what keeps me going. That’s how I play. I have an energetic play style that fits perfectly into what the Red Bulls do.”
It’s been a lightning fast rise for Adams, who is only months removed from graduating high school. It wasn’t very long ago that he was a youth team hopeful trying to impress his way into the first team’s plans.
“My first time training with the first team, I was just turning 16,” Adams said. “When I did break through, it was very easy to get along with the locker room. They treated me like a regular guy. We have a great locker room environment for young players. Like any other club, you have to earn the respect of the guys on the field, showing them why you deserve to be here.
“I remember going into my first training session being a little nervous like any young player would be. I’m a pretty confident guy, not cocky or anything like that. I remember making a couple of plays, then Sacha (Kljestan) and the other players giving me a high-five. It raised my confidence level and allowed me to be a bit more free in the group.”
Not only did Adams gain the approval of his teammates and the coaching staff, he also got the thumbs-up from a living legend. The teenage midfielder had the opportunity to rub shoulders with Thierry Henry during the 2015 International Champions Cup and impressed the former Red Bulls forward with his headed goal against a Chelsea team that had lifted the Premier League title months earlier.
“The first time I met him was when we were preparing for the Chelsea and the Benfica matches in the ICC tournament,” Adams said. “Some of the first-team guys had the U.S. Open match the day before, so they weren’t able to play in the Chelsea game the next day. A couple of the USL guys got called up, and one of them had to be me. I remember Henry actually training with us that summer in July. He came back and trained for a day, and I had the opportunity to train with him. The following day, he was at the Chelsea match, and that was the same day I scored my goal. He congratulated me, and it was an awesome feeling thinking that one day I was watching this guy score goals and the next he’s congratulating me for scoring a goal. That meant a lot to me, and I still carry that with me. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
After all, Henry was his childhood hero, and that made the moment even sweeter.
“The guy who kind of got me all in for soccer was Henry,” Adams said. “When he was at Arsenal, I would wake up in the morning and flip the TV to “Fox Sports Report” and see how he was doing. I’d watch whatever games I could possibly watch when he was in the EPL and at Barcelona. I remember always wearing his jerseys when I was younger. He was always a role model for me. I wanted to follow his footsteps, even though I didn’t play the same position. His mentality that he brought to the field and the skill level that he contained made him my favorite player.”
Lately, Adams is putting in eye-opening performances week after week – adding to the belief that this teenager is on track for MLS greatness. An eventual call-up to the United States national team’s senior squad shouldn’t be far behind. Adams impressed for the United States throughout the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, but injury forced him off the pitch in the 51st minute of a quarterfinal defeat to Venezuela. The Americans eventually lost 2-1 in extra time, and Adams could only watch helplessly from the bench.
“I was having a pretty good tournament,” Adams said. “Getting injured against Venezuela and having to come out early in the match, it was a huge setback for me personally. Mentally, it (stunk) to have that feeling that you let your team down in a big game like that and not been able to contribute in the right manner that you might have wanted to. But you have to overcome those things very quickly. I remember coming back and playing in the first game we had against NYCFC and winning that game in the Open Cup. Now, we’re about to compete in the U.S. Open Cup final. With soccer and sports, things turn around pretty quickly. So, you just have to be ready for that next obstacle.”
For a player who sets his goals high, a USMNT call-up is his ambition. He credits Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch for helping him become a highly regarded MLS youngster.
“Obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time with Jesse,” Adams said. “His morals and the ideas that he contains, he’s a really smart coach and a really good guy. I think what he does off the field with me and on the field at the same time has set me up in a big way to hopefully break in with the national team sooner rather than later.
“I always set big goals, but there’s always more that I can accomplish. I think that breaking into the national team is one of my biggest goals. I think that once you get your face in there and you have some good performances along the way, hopefully you become consistent in there. As a young player, getting that first opportunity is the biggest thing. The biggest thing for me is just to continue to get minutes and focus on what I’m doing with Red Bulls. Hopefully, something stands out to the national team coaches.”
It sure looks like he’s edging closer to reaching his USMNT goal.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey