Each rendition of the World Cup springs a few surprise performers. With over half of the world’s eyes on you, there’s immense pressure to perform, but there’s a high chance that your stock could rise if you hit a purple patch during the tournament.
The USA has been one of the surprise teams in Qatar. Many American fans lacked hope in manager Gregg Berhalter’s tactics and squad selection throughout qualifying and they were favourites to struggle and be eliminated in Group B. However, the youthful American side has shocked many opposing fans and even their own with their performances. No goals were conceded from open play, arguably the better team against England and deservedly through to the Round of 16 where they fell to a strong Netherlands side.
All the American players have been under the limelight and have been the subject of much praise, especially from the English press, with the US side sharing the group with England. One man that’s come under plenty of praise has been 23-year-old Tyler Adams, but for Leeds fans, this is nothing new.
His route to the whites
Adams was a project with the Red Bull system ever since signing his first professional contract at the age of 16. He started in New York and played 34 times for the New York Red Bulls’ second team, making his MLS debut for the first team in the 2016 season. He went on to become a regular in the American side in the 2017 season, playing 51 times over the next two seasons, scoring twice and providing 11 assists. Putting up these numbers at such a young age meant it wouldn’t be long before a European team came knocking. It just so happened that Red Bull had a team in Germany for him to move on to.
It was in Leipzig where Adams was able to showcase his talents on a European stage. His four seasons in Germany saw the Red Bull side succeed in finishing in the top 4 each year, and whilst minor injuries may have derailed his momentum in his first couple of seasons at RB Leipzig (only playing 24 league games in his first two seasons and missing 25 games in that period), he was able to develop and carry some consistency into the back half of his stint in Germany.
He scored his first goal for Leipzig in a dramatic 2-1 Champions League win against Athletico Madrid in 2020, subsequently sending them to that year’s semi-finals, and given the structuring of that year’s Champions League, having come after the conclusion of the 19/20 Bundesliga season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s arguable that it was this goal that solidified him as a mainstay in the Leipzig midfield. Over the next two seasons, he would make 51 league appearances, 10 Champions League appearances, and 5 Europa League appearances and was a substitute appearance in their penalty victory in the DFB Pokal cup final against Freiburg. You wouldn’t have guessed that he’d swap regular UCL football for a side that just avoided relegation in England, but with Jesse Marsch at the helm, a reunition was inevitable.
Big shoes to fill
When Leeds fans found out that their Yorkshire Pirlo had left for pastures new over on the blue side of Manchester, nerves began to build. A proven name was needed, and with Phillips leaving for up to £50 million, many were expected to reinvest into someone well-known and who would live up to the price tag that they were expecting the board to place on them. However, when Phillips’ replacement was brought in for only £20 million, there wasn’t much hope.
Kalvin Phillips had been their rock in defensive midfield, and anyone that was going to be brought in to replace him would have to work twice as hard to earn the fans’ respect, therefore Adams was already in a tough position. Initial scouting reports and fans of the Bundesliga stated that whilst Adams didn’t possess the technical ability on the ball that Phillips had, he would earn respect by working hard and giving it all for the shirt and, in the end, isn’t that mainly what fans ask of their players? Some effort?
It’s because of this that Adams has settled in perfectly and is, in many eyes, Leeds’ best signing this season. Ever-present in all but one league game in the first half of the season, 2nd in Premier League tackles, has no errors leading to goals and is one of the hardest workers in the league. It is because of this that Gregg Berhalter made Adams the captain of the USA national team for the World Cup, becoming the youngest player ever to captain his team in the tournament, and maybe Jesse Marsch should follow suit.
Our next captain?
Liam Cooper has been Leeds United’s captain since August 2017 – over 5 years ago. And whilst his leadership is arguably the greatest part of his game, perhaps it is time to pass the mantle over to Adams. He didn’t let the added pressure of being a national team captain affect him and performed as Leeds’ fans know he can, running the furthest out of anyone at the time of the USA’s elimination.
Not only is he a great leader on the pitch, but he also speaks eloquently and professionally off it, even in the face of tough questions. His ability to diffuse awkward questions about the politics of Iran and the USA itself proves that this is a young man who has a calm, matured head on his shoulders, and is a role model already for young men not just in Leeds, but the US itself. With over 4 years left on his current deal at Leeds, he hopefully won’t be going anywhere soon, so why not place the armband on a man that, over the last 4 months, has shown that he deserves it.