The remarkable leadership of USA’s Tyler Adams
10: 27 AM ET
DOHA, Qatar — Jesse Marsch knew Tyler Adams had it at age 15. Dave Sarachan and Alejandro Bedoya saw it during Adams’ first national team camp in Portugal in 2017. And Adams’ United States teammates have seen it here in Qatar during this World Cup.
What is “it”? It’s difficult to quantify. It could be called charisma, leadership, or emotional intelligence. But, it is clear that it goes deeper than that. Adams exudes a certain aura that shows he will not only do his job but also relieve you of some pressure to do yours. This could mean being there for a teammate on field, or handling hot news conference questions off the line.
All of those attributes were on display during a 30-hour period earlier this week. It started during Monday’s news conference in which an Iranian reporter chided Adams for mispronouncing the country’s name and then asked how he felt representing the US given the country has a long history of racism against Black people. Adams took the sting out the question by apologizing and then stressing that progress is being made in the US “everyday”. “
It was a moment that left his teammates impressed, and validated the decision of manager Gregg Berhalter to name the Leeds United midfielder captain before the tournament. Adams is the perfect choice for the captain role.
“I thought it was brilliant,” said center-back Tim Ream about Adams’ astute handling of Monday’s news conference. “It’s the way it is. That’s the world we’re living in right now, and for him to handle it with the poise that he did and the sincerity that he did, I think was fantastic for a 23-year-old. “
Adams followed that up with the kind of impressive performance for the US that has become the norm, putting in his usual robust shift in the center of midfield, and leading the Americans to a 1-0 victory over Iran that clinched passage to the knockout stage. Now a round-of-16 matchup against the Netherlands awaits.
“Tyler’s a beast, man,” US right-back Shaq Moore said. “He sets the tone with the ball, and without the ball, intensity, getting stuck in, and the ball. He is a key part of our team. He’s a great addition to our team. “
Leaders can be made, not born. Adams’ parents, Melissa Russo Sullivan and Daryl Sullivan played a major role in shaping him into the person he was. However, Adams also played against older players during his youth career and, when he reached the New York Red Bulls team, he drew inspiration and support from the captains he played with there.
” “I think just looking back to when I was younger, I was just very competitive,” Adams said on Friday. “I didn’t care who I was playing with. I think the older men hated playing against me. To a certain degree, I ended up on their team a lot of time so they didn’t have to play against my. We had good relationships.
In my early professional career with the Red Bulls I was very fortunate to have had a lot of great captains to learn from. Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty were all good examples of men you can take different qualities. I have always wondered how I can relate with different people. When I have a conversation about Tim Ream, it will probably be very different from a conversation I have with Brendan Aaronson, whom I spend a lot time with.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win when I’m on the pitch. It’s certainly evolved in many different ways. I try to figure out how I can make the most of my players and relate to them in different ways. “
Leeds boss Marsch saw Adams’ aptitude for life and for the game from the time he first met him as a teenager. At that time, Marsch was the manager of the New York Red Bulls while Adams, of Wappingers Falls, New York, was navigating his way through the team’s academy.
“He was built with so many leadership qualities when I first met him at 15 years old,” Marsch said of Adams. Adams had a baby face but he looked at you straight in the eye. He laughed when it was light and was intense when discussing important football topics. “
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There was selflessness, too. John Wolyniec, who managed Adams when he played with the Red Bulls reserves, recalled how when the player returned to the Red Bulls II from the 2015 U17 World Cup, Wolyniec was in a jam and needed someone to play left-back. Adams was asked.
” He gave one of those looks, and said, “Right, no problem.” Wolyniec laughed and said, ‘I’ll be fine.’ He’s just that kind of guy, right? He will let you know when things are not going well, and when he is unhappy. But at the end, he does what’s asked him. “
At 18, Adams showed the same kind of potential when he first was called up to the US men’s national team in November 2017. That was a period when the team was at its nadir, just one month removed from failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It was tempting to think that the entire program should be scrapped. Sarachan, the interim manager, sought to find a more balanced approach. He gave debut appearances to the likes of Adams and Weston McKennie during that international window that included a friendly against Portugal. Ream and Bedoya were also among the veterans he brought in.
Adams had already gained Bedoya’s respect with his competitiveness and unwillingness to back down during encounters in MLS.
” I’d make a pass to try to get a one two, he would be there, trying to kicke me,” Bedoya stated. “And I recall one time he would put his arm up and actually get me in the face. I was like, “Who do you think that you are?” I can tell you that after the game, I went to him first and I was like, ‘Hey dude. I gained a lot respect for your approach to things. ‘”
Training with Adams up close gave Bedoya even more appreciation for what the young midfielder brought to the table. Bedoya was impressed by Adams’ work ethic.
“[Adams] had already demonstrated enough for me that I could see that he would be a leader by example certainly, at the very minimum,” Bedoya stated.
Sarachan recalls that Adams was a little too aggressive during the team’s initial training session.
“He covered more ground in 10 minutes than I had seen a lot of my players cover in one training session,” Sarachan said. It’s almost like when you go to purchase a car. The salesman will usually take you in the car and tell you to get on the road. Tyler just blew it away. “
Sarachan stops short of saying he knew Adams would captain the US side, but he saw some of the same building blocks Bedoya did in terms of work ethic and preparation. These traits became more prominent over time.
“When thinking about leadership qualities, certain boxes must be checked,” Sarachan stated. You need to have confidence, humility, a work ethic, and there are many more. As a young child, I was unsure how this would work out. But once we got into 2018, it didn’t take long for me to know that, ‘OK, this kid’s got what it takes to be a leader other than his youth.’ I look back and think about that Portugal week, the signs were there for sure. “
Now Adams has the man-in-the-middle. He was reunited with Marsch when he transferred to Leeds last summer from RB Leipzig, and has immediately endeared himself to the club’s faithful. The rest of the world is now noticing Adams’ contributions on and off the pitch.
” We were excited about the potential from the moment we met Adams,” Marsch stated. “But, he has grown into something so much greater than I could have ever imagined. “
The USMNT feels the same way.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.