While NY was again disappointing in losing their third-straight, if there was anything positive Wednesday night, it was the MLS debut of Tyler Adams.
One of the issues with the sputtering RBNY midfield in 2016 is its lack of speed and athleticism. In trying to run a gegenpressing system it is paramount to have midfielders that are not only tough tacklers with the technical aptitude to work in tight spaces, but also with the speed and quickness to close down spaces in defense and charge down the field on offense. The Red Bulls have looked very slow, both in terms of raw speed and decision-making, and therefore have left their backline exposed and haven’t offered much in attack.
But Jesse Marsch made some changes to the starting XI against San Jose and gave Adams his first league start. Lining up next to Felipe Martins in place of a resting Dax McCarty, the 17-year-old showed some promise before being removed at halftime.
Due to Adams’ presence, there seemed to be a high-level athlete in midfield for the first time this season. In many cases, a soccer player being described as an athlete is bemoaned, particularly American soccer players. A negative connotation can be inferred from the fact that athleticism is often spoken about as somehow oppositional to technical ability. In the case of Tyler Adams, those two attributes aren’t mutually exclusive.
Most impressive about the youngster’s 45 minutes on the field was not only his calmness with the ball at his feet but also his speed and quickness to cover as much ground as he did. Not only did Adams make defensive recoveries and interceptions on both sides of the field, he also made them at both ends. He popped up in various positions as his 46 first half touches occurred in all four quadrants of midfield.
That movement is in contrast to the other men who have manned the defensive midfield positions for RBNY. In each of the last three games, Felipe, McCarty and Sean Davis have made the majority of their defensive plays in one concentrated area of the field. Seeing Adams pop in numerous locations was a welcome sight.
Felipe vs. San Jose Earthquakes (4/13)
Dax McCarty & Sean Davis vs. Sporting Kansas City (4/9)
McCarty & Felipe vs. New England Revolution (4/1)
Adam’s ability to cover so much ground helped limit the jailbreak counter attacks that have been the death of NY so far this season. The one breakaway for San Jose in the first half was the result of a Kemar Lawrence-Felipe comedy routine: both lost their footing while attempting simple passes to each other in the middle of the field.
Despite the strong debut, Marsch still pulled Adams at the break for reasons that remain unclear. Either Marsch had predetermined that he would bring in Sacha Kljestan for him if RBNY were down a goal at halftime or he wanted to get Adams out on a positive note.
Marsch’s explanation was vague saying that he "felt like as the half went on (Adams) really got himself going but we felt like we needed to make a couple changes at the half to really inject some guys who we thought could help the game." As one of the more positives player on the field in the first half it was a curious decision since Adams had given a good account of his abilities in the first half.
Regardless of the reasons for his early removal, it’s easy to see why the academy product out of Wappingers Falls, NY was given a first team contract. Despite physically looking every bit his 17 years, Adams displayed strength, athleticism and poise in competition with grown men.
While a 45-minute cameo a career does not make, we got a glimpse of what may be the beginnings of one that could be very interesting.