Back in October, I had the opportunity to watch the New York Red Bulls II victory over Swope Park Rangers in the USL Cup Championship. One of the players who particularly impressed was Tyler Adams: RBNY's 17-year-old starting-midfielder-in-waiting. After the game, milling around waiting for the post-game pressers, I asked a few fellow reporters what they thought of Adams' performance in the game. More than once, I heard him compared to Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante: a breakout star for Leicester City during their EPL title run last season, now providing similar service to Chelsea. As it happened, Adams himself called Kante's name during his post-match interview as he described the role and standard he aspires to:
At 17, Adams has a lot of time to develop and advance his career. Perhaps in a few years, he'll be a name young players use to illustrate the way they want to regarded in the game. For now, he's a teenage pro who wants to reach the standards set by the likes of Keita and Kante. For now, he'll do well to be regarded as the American Kante. Or - as he should be referred to until he makes his own name as respected as that of his idol - AmeriKante.
Though he did not register on the scoresheet in NYRB II's 5-1 win in the USL Championship game, AmeriKante did a phenomenal job controlling the ball and distributing it to the team's many playmakers. It seemed positively mind-boggling that someone so young (did I mention he's 17?), with such a comparatively small frame could be so dominant.
Quick Examples from the title game:
13' - A jump ball in the Red Bulls box. Adams jumps above the SPR attacker (a head taller than him) to head the ball away, only for Tyrpak to wind up for a hard strike - which Adams easily deflects with his thigh, denying his opponent a shot on goal.
16' - A poorly taken ball by an SPR player at midfield allows Adams to swoop in and take control. Two SPR players are quickly on top of him, but with some fancy footwork, he plays keep away long enough to thread the ball between several foes and into an awaiting Derrick Etienne Jr.
To return to his comments in his post-game interview:
Q: What do you think about your role as a central midfielder, given how young you are and how you have a somewhat smaller frame than your traditional central midfielder?
Adams: Yeah I don't think that takes away from anything, I think you see now in modern-day soccer you see guys like N'Golo Kante and Naby Keita from these big clubs that get the job done no matter what. I think those are guys that have engines and they do all of the dirty work for guys around them to be creative.
And even looking at our guys right now, you have Dax McCarty and Felipe - they're no bigger than me and they get the job done better than anybody and we have one of the best midfields in the league. So I think it doesn't really matter and I'm ready to do whatever I need to do.
AmeriKante: it fits.
Adams is almost as impressive off the field as he is on it. He is a composed and mature voice in an interview. He speaks not as someone who is excited to display his skill or demand more playing time and responsibilities, but as someone hungry for a chance to lead by example. Questions that might have daunted players twice his age were answered very naturally and thoroughly. If his work on the pitch suggests an unexpected maturity, the way he works the press confirms it.
Q: What made this team a Championship-caliber team?
Adams: There's a lot of different pieces but I think everyone had the work ethic this year and believed in what we had to do, [and] in the philosophy that Red Bulls puts into place, high-pressing, and high-working, and everyone has to put their job in.
If you don't put your job in and there's one weak link then the job isn't gonna get done, and for us everybody that stepped in had to play a role, whether it was an Academy kid [or] MLS guys dropping down and playing, or a regular guy on the USL team, so everybody's played a factor this year.Q: What are you planning to do in the offseason to further your development?Adams: Yeah, in the off-season I want to stay sharp, not take too much time off and get away from the game, still be training on my own... and as many (training) sessions as I can get...
Adams has a lot going for him heading into 2017. And at his age it won't necessarily be a bad thing if he spends another season mostly playing for the II team in USL. But he got regular outings for the RBNY first team in CONCACAF Champions League last season, selected to start in place of the injured Dax McCarty for both the Red Bulls' group stage home games and the 1-1 draw in El Salvador against Alianza.
He was a regular for the US U-17 team, selected to the roster for the MLS Homegrown team, and recently won the attention of the US U-20s. The question of when he will force his way into RBNY's first team plans isn't likely to go away in 2017. If anything it should be expected to be asked a little louder.
I'm no scout and certainly no executive, but it's no surprise he's already attracting rumor mill attention. It's not hard to imagine him performing at the highest levels of the professional game - he already has a goal against Chelsea on his career highlight reel.
He's a better player now than he was when he scored that goal. It's fair to expect he'll be a better player by the end of 2017 than he is now. If it seems preposterous to compare a 17-year-old who had a decent season with RBNY's reserves to one of the most admired midfielders in the game at the moment, I'd bet it will seem a lot less preposterous before Adams is out of his teens.
As composed and focused as he is talented, Tyler Adams seems to have all the tools required to make himself a real AmeriKante.