As 2018 drew to a close, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl sat down with Tyler Adams for an episode of the Planet Futbol podcast, covering a wide range of topics including the 19-year-old’s long-term career ambitions and how he’s planning on settling in to his new life in Germany with RB Leipzig.
Add the podcast to Adams’ own memorable account of his career to date for the Players’ Tribune and the New York Red Bulls’ video tribute to the poster boy for their development system: you have just about all you need to know about RBNY’s wunderkind.
For Once A Metro, perhaps the most interesting part of Adams’ chat with Wahl was the time he spent outlining his path from RBNY to RB Leipzig.
The move was no great surprise by the time it was officially announced on December 2: back in May, reporting for Metro (no relation), Kristian Dyer advised there was a deal in the works to bring Adams to Leipzig; in July, shortly after RBNY had donated its head coach to RBL’s cause, mlssoccer.com’s Sam Stejskal re-affirmed the notion that Adams was destined to follow the route to the Bundesliga charted by Jesse Marsch.
There followed a concerted effort to quieten the speculation. The Athletic’s Franco Panizo got a denial out of Adams:
No, nothing. The earliest that they have talked to me was when I was 15 and I went over for that little trial stint with Sean [Davis]. Other than that, you see guys get loaned here and stuff like that, but no contact about me going there right now.
I just know that 100 percent I’m here for the whole season. What happens at the end of the year, we’ll see, but I think that my focus is on what I’m doing right here right now.
This didn’t entirely square with Marsch’s comment that RBNY had “fought hard” to keep Adams for the rest of the 2018 season, but it seemed to do the trick of slowing the rumor mill’s roll.
Full Quote from newly appointed assistant coach Jesse Marsch on Tyler Adams:— USMNT Watch (@USMNT_Watch) July 11, 2018
"Leipzig would be lucky to have him. There’s a lot of teams interested. We’ve fought hard in New York to hold onto him at least until the end of the year, but Tyler has a future in Europe, no doubt." pic.twitter.com/SPn3tEqWOi
As Adams subsequently revealed to Wahl, however, the “no contact about me going there right now” wasn’t...well, not entirely false, but also not entirely on the up and up.
Not entirely false because Marsch apparently left for Leipzig with instruction to Adams to keep his mind focused on the present:
Me and Jesse have not talked at all for the past four months.
He wanted me to focus on what I was doing here, and keep my eyes set on winning an MLS Cup - and that’s exactly what I did. I just wanted to make sure that my focus was 100% here, because that was the most important thing: living in the present and taking care of business and after that I’ll figure out what I needed to do.
It was about a week ago now that, when our season ended, he reached out to me. We had a 30-minute conversation about what the process is going to be like and the transition is going to be like.
And the reason Adams was able to keep a clear head about the whole situation was because it had largely been settled well in advance. The courtship had started early with a get-to-know-you trip to the RB clubs of Europe:
I was 16 when I had the first opportunity to go to Salzburg and Leipzig to go on a training stint. I was already signed with the New York Red Bulls and they had offered me and Sean Davis - obviously, you know, fellow midfielder - the opportunity. They said, “Do you guys want to go do winter training? Obviously, it’s your off-season; you guys should take a break, but we want to offer it to you guys because we think that it would be good experience for you.”
And for me, of course, I come through the season end and I get this opportunity - I’m like, “Yeah - when’s my flight? It’s tomorrow, I’ll head out tomorrow, no problem.”
And I get the opportunity to go there. Leipzig was my first experience being there, being in East Germany, going through the culture process and trying to assimilate myself into a young team.
For Adams, the experience was eye-opening:
At that point I trained with the under-19 team, but it was a pretty special and unique opportunity because at that point we had test matches against Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund - and being a player that was just there training, technically on trial, you could say, I had the opportunity to play in these games. And right away I was like, “This is something I want to do. I want to be in this environment every single day.”
Obviously an unbelievable training facility, playing against top young teams and top young players around the world. It was an amazing experience. From that point on out, it was always a low-key feeling that one day this could become reality. There were talks between me, my agent, Oliver Mintzlaff - who’s the sporting director there and CEO - that we could make this move possible one day: continue to develop with the Red Bulls and Jesse and Chris Armas, and continuing to work on the things you need to, and we’ll make this move happen one day, possibly.
But it takes more than a tour of the training facility and some test matches to persuade a young RBNY prospect to make the jump to RBL, Red Bull Global Soccer had perhaps learned this the hard way, when Matt Miazga opted to join Chelsea about a year after he’d been given a trial/not-trial with RB Leipzig.
In Adams’ case, the 2017 Men’s U-20 World Cup proved to be the catalyst for Red Bull Global to act to ensure it didn’t let another RBNY prospect slip away from the RB soccer family:
About a year ago, after the under-20 World Cup, there were some other European teams that also wanted me to possibly sign with them. And that’s at that point when Leipzig realized - OK, I think we need to start making a move here.
At first it was “should he go to Salzburg at the beginning of last season and leave Red Bull and focus on developing and then we make the transfer from Salzburg to Leipzig?”
But at that point it was for me, “why not just stay in New York and try to win an MLS Cup and do what I need to here, and then make the move directly to Leipzig?”
It went back and forth for a bit and Leipzig agreed with me that, you know, stay in New York for this year, work under Jesse and Chris and continue to develop - hopefully bring back an MLS Cup, which unfortunately we weren’t able to do this year - and then we’ll make the move to Leipzig.
And it was at that point that I knew that, you know, play out this year and at the end of the season you’ll have bigger and better things waiting for you at the end of the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. I think that, for me, it was just so important to work hard, have a good season with my teammates here, and know that at the end of the season big changes were going to happen.
Which would appear to be Adams’ way of saying that things were more or less wrapped up regarding his next move over the back-end of 2017.
It was possibly pertinent to those negotiations that RBs Leipzig and Salzburg got UEFA approval to compete in Champions League in the summer of 2017, despite misgivings about the apparent common ownership of the two clubs. Having convinced UEFA that they weren’t in fact two teams with one owner, but to two independent sporting entities, maybe RBL and RBS understandably cooled off on the idea of caroming Adams off Salzburg into Leipzig. No surprise, perhaps, that RBL ultimately “agreed” with Adams preference to stay in RBNY and transfer directly to Leipzig, despite “a bit of back and forth”.
At any rate, when Adams told Franco Panizo “no contact about me going there right now”, what he didn’t say aloud was “because we settled all this months ago”.
Ultimately, Adams’ chat with Wahl provides some insight into the way RB Global Soccer is attempting to connect the RBNY talent pipeline to its European enterprises. We know those efforts aren’t inevitably successful: Matt Miazga is not playing for either Leipzig or Salzburg. And maybe that will eventually prove to be the greatest significance of Adams’ transfer to RBL: it shows RBNY can produce prospects who can offer something to the RBs in Europe, and it shows RB Global Soccer does have the capacity to convince those prospects to make the move.
There’s no guarantee RBNY will ever see another homegrown product transfer to one of its European cousins, but if and when the next prospect catches RBL’s eye, the Red Bull Global Soccer family will be a little more confident in its ability to seal the deal. And maybe those of us who follow RBNY will be a little more confident about interpreting the evidence that something is up.