Following on from the likes of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Josh Sargent, Tyler Adams is the latest highly rated young American to try and crack the Bundesliga. bundesliga.com examines how the USA international is likely to make his mark at RB Leipzig.
Adams officially completed his move to Germany in the January transfer window, with Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick saying the 19-year-old could immediately bolster his side’s central midfield. In the end, the new signing watched from the bench as Borussia Dortmund and Pulisic – who came on as a substitute – escaped from Leipzig with a 1-0 success in their first game of 2019.
Rangnick has never shied away from throwing young players into action, however, and it is likely that Adams will get his chances in the second half of the season along with fellow winter arrival Amadou Haidara. But what does he bring to the table?
More than about goals
Leipzig did well in the first half of the campaign - considering they were also involved in the UEFA Europa League - finishing the Hinrunde in fourth position and with the best defence in the German top flight.
While all-action Malian Haidara - currently out injured - has the potential to provide some of the goals that Naby Keita used to, Adams feels he has other attributes to offer.
“To be honest, I don’t really care about goals,” he told SBNation recently. “What I really like is shutting down the opponent’s best player. I like tackles, dribbling… and getting an assist is just as good as a goal to me.”
That’s not to say that Adams, from the village of Wappingers Falls in New York state, is not capable of getting his name on the scoresheet. In July 2015, at the age of just 16, he deftly headed home against English giants Chelsea in a pre-season win in the International Champions Cup.
Playing at right-wing back for the New York Red Bulls against rivals D.C. United in September 2017, he scored not once but twice. His debut Major League Soccer goal, which came in that 3-3 draw, was something to behold. Arriving late on the right side of the area, Adams chested a cross down and adjusted his body smartly to volley superbly into the far corner from a tight angle.
“Tyler Adams: amazing,” his then coach Jesse Marsch - now assistant manager at Leipzig - said after the game. “He gets better every game, grows every game. What a pleasure to watch him. What a pleasure to coach him. Big-time player. Amazing, amazing. Took the team on his shoulders.”
The new Keita? Or the new Kante?
Playing mostly under Marsch – who joined Leipzig last July – Adams has developed into a courageous, demanding and energetic central midfielder. He became indispensible to his team over the past two seasons in the MLS, and in both years they were knocked out in the playoffs by the eventual champions.
In the past Adams has cited both Keita and France’s World Cup-winning midfield lynchpin N’Golo Kante as players he looks up to. Ahead of the USMNT’s friendly against France before last summer’s World Cup in Russia, he suggested that he was proud to come up against the likes of Kante, Bayern Munich’s Corentin Tolisso and Manchester United’s Paul Pogba.
“On the day, my idols that I look up to – N’Golo Kante, Tolisso, Pogba, all these guys – now they’re my rivals,” he told espnfc.com. “And for me I look at that as a huge standpoint in my career.
“Now I’m playing against guys like this, and this is what it’s really about. You want to make a statement in games like these that you deserve to be on the field with these guys.”
A will to win
In 2017, a brush with former Germany and Bayern midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger demonstrated what’s become a trademark competitive edge in Leipzig’s new signing. Schweinsteiger won an aerial challenge to leave his opponent momentarily on the floor, but Adams waved away the Chicago Fire midfielder’s attempted handshake immediately afterwards.
“Obviously he’s a great player, and after the game I’m going to shake his hand like everybody else,” Adams told mlssoccer.com. “But on the field during the moment it’s game time.
“It’s kind of like a switch in my head. Once I step on the field, it doesn’t matter who is on the field, who I’m playing against or anything like that. I’m going to give it my all no matter what.”
That competitive streak made an impression on New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles when he trained with Adams – then aged 16 – for the first time.
Watch: Bastian Schweinsteiger: A Bundesliga legend
“That’s what sticks out each and every day with Tyler,” Robles told mlssoccer.com in the summer of 2017. “There’s a certain part that you just can’t teach, and part of that is the tenacity, the fight. He doesn’t in any way expect to lose a ball, and there’s a fearlessness to him that’s impressive.”
So wherever Adams plays – and it is most likely to be as a holding midfielder - Leipzig have got a player who will be giving his all.
A bundle of energy
That hatred of losing dovetails nicely with Leipzig’s aggressive playing style. Their fanatical pressing of the opposition requires players with serious stamina, and Adams - who made 30 starts for New York Red Bulls in 2018 - should fit the bill at the heart of Rangnick’s midfield.
“He just has a tonne of energy, and physically he’s very gifted,” Sacha Kljestan of Orlando City, a former team mate of Adams with the Red Bulls, told Major League Soccer. “When we see the statistics of every game of how much he runs, it’s an absurdly high amount compared to the rest of the players on the field.”
Real Salt Lake’s Justen Glad, who played with Adams in USA youth teams, is another player who was full of praise for the rising star. “He has an engine that players would kill for,” Glad told Major League Soccer. “He just keeps running and running and running. When you combine his athleticism with his mentality, he’s a beast on the field.”
More to come
Leipzig fans will be well used to seeing talented young players improve further with time, something that Adams, who turns 20 on Valentine’s Day, seems well set to do. The new arrival has previously spoken of his desire to become more of a true box-to-box midfielder by adding more attacking skills to his game.
Adams’ work seems to be paying off, since he got his first goal for the USA in September 2018 by making a late drift into the penalty area against Mexico and calmly tucking home the winner.
The teenager’s breakthrough at international level also helped him finish second behind goalkeeper Zack Steffen in the voting for the 2018 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year award. That meant he pushed Schalke midfielder McKennie into third place in the pecking order for a prize that was won by Pulisic the year before.
Now Adams is aiming to emulate McKennie and Pulisic - two friends and international colleagues of his - by making a name for himself in the Bundesliga. He had been preparing for his latest move by learning German since last summer, and now he is ready to show Leipzig what all the fuss is about.