How USA World Cup captain Tyler Adams demonstrates his leadership
- December 2, 2022
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DOHA, Qatar — Jesse Marsch knew Tyler Adams had it at the age of 15. Dave Sarachan and Alejandro Bedoya saw it during Adams’ first national team camp in Portugal in 2017. And Adams’ teammates from the United States saw it here in Qatar during this World Cup.
What is “it”, you might ask? Well, it’s hard to quantify. Some call it charisma, others would call it leadership or emotional intelligence, but the meaning is that “it” goes deeper than all of that. There’s an aura about Adams that conveys that not only is he doing his job, but so are you relieved of the pressure to make yours. These days, that might mean deputizing for a teammate on the field, or deftly answering some sharp questions at press conferences.
All of these attributes were on display over a 30-hour period earlier this week. It began during Monday’s news conference, where an Iranian reporter rebuked Adams for mispronouncing the country’s name and then asked how he felt as a US representative given the long history of anti-black racism. Adams defused the question by apologizing for the mispronunciation, then stressing that he felt progress was being made in the US “every day”.
It was a moment that impressed his team-mates and confirmed manager Gregg Berhalter’s decision to name the Leeds United midfielder captain ahead of the tournament. Other players in this roster have served as captain, but the role fits Adams perfectly.
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“I thought it was brilliant,” said centre-back Tim Ream of Adam’s clever handling of Monday’s press conference. “It is what it is. It’s the world we live in right now and for him to deal with it with the calmness and sincerity that he did I think was fantastic for a 23-year-old.”
Adams followed with an impressive performance for the USA that has become the norm, introducing his usual robust central midfield shift and leading the Americans to a 1-0 win over Iran to earn their place in the knockout stages . round secured . Now a round of 16 game against the Netherlands is waiting.
“Tyler’s a beast man,” said US right-back Shaq Moore. “He sets the tone for us, with the ball, without the ball, wrapping up, intensity. He’s a big part of our team. I’m glad to have him.”
Leaders are made, not born, as the saying goes. Sure, Adams’ parents, Melissa Russo and Daryl Sullivan, played a big part in shaping him into the person he is, but he also played against older players throughout his youth career, and when he joined the New York Red Bulls came, he was inspired by the captains he had there.
“I think going back to when I was young I was just very competitive,” Adams said on Friday. “I didn’t care who I was playing against. I think the older guys probably hated playing me and to a certain extent I often ended up on their teams so they didn’t have to play me. So we built good relationships.
In my early professional career with the Red Bulls I was very fortunate to have a lot of good captains to learn from: Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, Luis Robles – all guys from whom you can take different qualities. And I’ve just always thought about how I can deal with different people. So if I have a conversation with Tim Ream, it’s probably going to be very different than a conversation with Brendan Aaronson, who I spend a lot of time with.
“So yes, it’s definitely played out in a lot of different ways, but when I’m on the field I’ll do whatever it takes to win. So I’m just figuring out how to get the best out of all my players and just relate to them in different ways.”
Leeds boss Marsch noticed Adams’ talent for the game – and for life – from the moment he met him as a teenager. At the time, Marsch was the manager of the New York Red Bulls while Adams, from Wappingers Falls, New York, was navigating the team’s academy.
“He was endowed with so many leadership qualities when I first met him when he was 15,” Marsch said of Adams. “He was baby-faced but looked you straight in the eye, said what was on his mind, laughed when the conversation was light and showed intensity when important football issues were discussed.”
There was also selflessness. John Wolyniec, who managed Adams when he was a Red Bulls reserve player, recalled that upon his return to Red Bulls II from the 2015 U17 World Cup, Wolyniec was in a bind and needed someone to play at left-back. He asked Adams.
“He gave one of those looks and said, ‘Okay, no problem. I’m fine,'” Wolyniec said with a chuckle. “He’s just that kind of guy, isn’t he? He’ll let you know when he’s not happy and when he’s disappointed, but at the end of the day, whatever is asked of him, be it the manager, the team, the game , he makes it easy.”
At 18, Adams showed the same potential when he was first called up to the US men’s national team in November 2017. That was a time when the team was at rock bottom, just a month before failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
It was more than tempting to believe that the entire program should be razed to the ground. Sarachan, the interim manager, sought a more balanced approach. During that international window, which included a friendly against Portugal, he made his debut for the likes of Adams and Weston McKennie. He also brought in veterans like Bedoya and Ream.
Adams had already won Bedoya’s respect with his competitive nature and unwillingness to back down in MLS encounters.
Tyler Adams was one of the revelations of this World Cup, both for his contributions on the pitch and his leadership off it. Juan Luis Diaz/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
“I would make a pass and try to get a double, he would be there and try to kick me,” Bedoya said. “And I remember once he put his arm up and actually hit me in the face a little bit. I just said, ‘Who do you think you are?’ I gotta tell you man, after the game the first person I went to was him and I was like, ‘Hey dude. I have a lot of respect for how you do things.’”
Training with Adams up close gave Bedoya even more appreciation for what the young midfielder brought to the table. His work habits alone showed Bedoya that he was something special.
“[Adams] had already demonstrated enough to see that he would at least definitely be a leader by example,” Bedoya said.
Sarachan recalled having to rein in Adams during the team’s first training session.
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“He covered more ground in 10 minutes than I’ve seen a lot of my players do in a training session,” Sarachan said. “It’s like you’re going to buy a car and the salesman gets in the car with you, usually you start off pretty simply and he tells you to get on the freeway. Tyler just nailed it.”
Sarachan doesn’t say he knew Adams would become captain of the US team, but he did see some of the same building blocks Bedoya made in terms of work ethic and preparation. Over time, these qualities made even more impression.
“When you think about leadership qualities, there are certain boxes that need to be checked,” Sarachan said. “You have to have confidence, you have to be humble, you have to have a work ethic, there are a lot more subgroups. And as a little kid, I didn’t know how it would turn out. But once we made it back in 2018, it didn’t take long for me to realize, ‘okay, this boy has what it takes to be a leader, apart from his youth.’ I look back and think of that Portugal week , the signs were definitely there.”
Now Adams is a man in full. He was reunited with Marsch when he joined Leeds from RB Leipzig last summer and has instantly endeared himself to the club’s supporters. Now the rest of the world is taking notice of Adam’s contribution, both on and off the field.
“We were excited about the possibilities from the moment we met him,” said Marsch. “However, it has become so much more than I even hoped for.”
The USMNT sees it the same way.