Tyler Adams woke up at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, still feeling the effects of a six-hour time change from Lyon – where he had played the second of two games with the U.S. men’s national team – to New York.
By the time the Red Bulls lined up to take on the Seattle Sounders that night, at 8 p.m. local time, he and teammate Tim Parker were taking part in what felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone, as their body clocks were reading 2 a.m. before referee Allen Chapman blew the opening whistle. That being said, neither of them would have traded the fatigue for what they experienced in France.
“I was talking to Tim [Parker] after we walked out, and seeing 58,000 fans, holding French flags, waving them like crazy, is just something that you’ll never forget,” Adams said after the Red Bulls match on Wednesday. “It’s almost like, you’re trying to hold back a smile, because you look across and you’re playing against [Paul] Pogba and [N’Golo] Kante, and the excitements there, and just getting up for those games is fun.”
With experience as an assistant for former United States coach Bob Bradley, from 2010-11, Jesse Marsch knows that beyond the awe of star-studded opposition, the experience of a national team camp is one that cannot be replicated at the MLS club level.
“I know how valuable those experiences are,” Marsch said after the match. “There’s nothing we could do here in our league or with our team to re-create the experience for Tyler and Tim to go start in Lyon, and play against one of the best teams in the world and play against some of the best players in the world, and to hold up in that game.”
Inevitably feeling some level of fatigue on Wednesday, the duo was inserted back into the starting lineup, and managed to mask their weariness against a struggling Sounders outfit. Adams put in a 64-minute shift in the midfield, while Parker linked with right-back debutant Ethan Kutler in a tidy 90-minute display, in which the Red Bulls prevailed, 2-1.
Making his first start in league play, following a start in the Red Bulls’ 4-0 win in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on June 6, Kutler made one mistake, when he passed the ball directly into the path of Sounders left-back Waylon Francis in the 87th minute. Francis gave the ball to Will Bruin, who wisely found substitute Harrison Shipp streaking toward goal, and Shipp providing the finish that created a tense end to the game.
“Obviously I have a little nervous energy out there, you know,” Kutler said after the match. “I missed some passes, I missed some defensive plays, but, it’s something that I’m going to, you know, get used to, playing in high-pressure situations. So, hopefully down the line, I can be comfortable in these types of situations.”
In its totality, Kutler’s performance was a solid showing, highlighted by his curling ball to Bradley Wright-Phillips in the 52nd minute, which the striker headed in for his 10th league goal.
New York’s play was largely exemplary, as the side in red doubled the Sounders in shots, 22-11, and almost tripled the rave green opposition in attempts-on-goal, 13-5. The game was carried out in Marsch’s terms for the most part, and even if the head coach was at times frustrated by a minor lack of sharpness, Marsch knows the occasional sloppiness was not due to a lack of effort.
“There’s tactical moments where we’re a little bit loose, which allows them to move up the field, and then there’s just finishing some plays off,” Marsch said of his frustration. “But, again, I know what I’m looking at, guys are tired. But I also know that, by not doing the little things right, they are going to get more tired.”
Balancing a fine line between pushing his players and negativity – especially in an unforgiving two-week stretch– the fourth-year Red Bulls coach was quick to downplay any frustration, as was his captain, Luis Robles, after making his first start at Red Bull Arena since May 5.
“The emotion is good, it just shows that guys care,” Robles said following the match. “And, we not only care about the result, but we care about, how we go about it, the details. And, when we take a step back and we realize, we played four games in 11 days, and we have one more in less than 72 hours, for us to get the results that we have, I think is, quite positive.”
Marsch has already promised his players a three-day period of recovery following their U.S. Open Cup match with the Philadelphia Union on June 16, but that assurance is no excuse for the team to lose focus.
The Red Bulls have played the Union in the Open Cup four times – three straight years under Marsch – and the margin could not be slimmer, with each side advancing on penalties once, while Philadelphia squeaked past New York by one-goal in 2016, and the Red Bulls similarly won by a single goal in the first meeting in 2010.
For Marsch’s side to pull ahead in the cup series, the Red Bulls will need to deal with the unfavorable circumstance of beating a Union team whose last match was on June 8, while the Red Bulls have poured out 180 minutes of effort onto the field since then.
Ultimately, New York overcoming Seattle by only one goal on Wednesday may have been a blessing in disguise, because, as Robles continues to eloquently put it, humility amidst steady improvement is key to the Red Bulls eradicating their cup demons.
“It’s all about forward momentum, and even though we got the result, there’s things that we still see where we can be better,” Robles said. “And, as long as we have this attitude of humility and a sense of, wanting to improve all the time, I think it’s going to get us closer, each and every game, to where we want to be.”