It was just two years ago that 19-year-old New York Red Bulls center back Matt Miazga set tongues wagging with a performance at the U20 World Cup that would play a part in ushering the towering teen out of Harrison, New Jersey and onto the books of English Premier giants Chelsea.
Then 16 years old and already in the Red Bulls fold, midfielder Tyler Adams was well positioned to watch the Miazga chase unfold. Now 18, Adams has just returned from a breakout performance of his own at the tournament often referred to as the biggest shop window in the sport.
After playing a leading role in the Red Bulls 1-0 U.S. Open Cup win over cross-river rivals NYCFC at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night, I mentioned Miazga’s experience to Adams.
“Yeah, Matt Miazga’s a great example,” Adams agreed. “”But,” the tireless midfielder added, “I’m just focused on what I’m doing here right now and to continue to get better every day.”
Those words could well have come from Miazga’s mouth, in fact they did, just two years ago when the young center back told GotSoccer in a March 24, 2015, interview, “I’ve just got to prove myself every day at training and try to impress and play well and get better every day.”
Like Miazga then, Adams is surrounded by veteran leaders who can show him the way and also like his predecessor, Adams has won the trust of his more experienced colleagues.
Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan wryly compared his young teammate to Miazga’s Chelsea teammate N’Golo Kante, even if Miazga is expected to go on loan from the Blues again this season.
“He looked like a little Kante tonight,” is how Kljestan put it in front of his locker following Wednesday night’s victory. The World Cup experience had been a positive one for Adams, Kljestan felt, surmising, “I think he’s probably just feeling good about himself, confidence-wise.”
“He had a pretty good Under 20 tournament,” Adams’ midfield partner continued. “He showed himself on a world stage for his age group, so that should be good for him moving forward.”
With head coach Jesse Marsch sidelined on Wednesday due to a suspension, assistant Chris Armas took charge of the team and in that capacity the former U.S. international waxed enthusiastic when GotSoccer asked about Adams in his postgame press conference.
“I played that position on the field,” Armas said. “I think I know what goes into it, how demanding it is. I think he’s way better than I was.” Armas, who only missed out on making the 2002 United States World Cup team through injury, couldn’t contain himself and he went on.
“Watching him play, the way he can cover ground, at such a young age, he’s fearless.” Pointing to a second half recovery run in which the 18-year-old seemingly came from nowhere to break up a New York City attack, Armas said, “it’s remarkable to watch.” Then came the warning. “I think we all have to take note and enjoy that (for) as much as we’re going to have him here.” “I think with his mentality, his aspirations, I’m sure that he can play in a different league someday.”
Not that Armas is pushing the teen out the door, far from it. “Tyler’s ours,” the assistant coach began, “I hope we keep him for a long time but when it comes time for him to go we would be wishing him well.” “We want,” Armas concluded, “to see him do great things.”
Inevitable rumors of German interest surfaced in South Korea during the U20 World Cup, so how does Adams feel about all this? I asked him if his agent had relayed any offers?
“Nah, Nah” Adams calmly noted. “Just focused on what I’m doing here.” Even Kljestan’s invocation of Kante, who is after all the gold standard at his position, barely ruffled the youngster.
“One of my favorite players,” the Red Bulls defensive midfielder said when I passed along his captain’s remark. “It’s good to be compared to him and if anything I can continue to try to model my game after him.”
“I think he’s a great player and you know no matter your size, he’s fearless.” Fearless. Adams was unaware that Armas had used that same word to describe his own game and even if the 5’8” Adams is taller than the generously listed 5’7” inch Chelsea star, Kante is still a worthy role model.
In 2015 it was Miazga who came back from the U20 World Cup as one of the shiniest items in the shop window, now Adams takes a turn.
Miazga spent last season playing in the Eredivisie, unable to crack the loaded Chelsea squad. That will be another lesson for Adams to absorb, and who knows it may keep the Wappingers Fall, New York native in the Red Bulls midfield for a little while longer.
But for just a little while. So, Red Bulls fans and MLS fans, take it from Armas and enjoy watching Tyler Adams while you can because “Little Kante” is in the shop window and the bidding is sure to begin shortly.