Harrison N.J. – It was late Tuesday night in the depths of Red Bull Arena where the New York Red Bulls had defeated Club Tijuana 3-1 on the night and 5-1 overall to advance to the semifinals of the Concacaf Champions League for the first time.
The coaches from both clubs had spoken to the press and with the cold night drawing to a close, media members were crammed into the hallway outside the Red Bulls locker room, separated by the stadium version of a velvet rope from New York Red Bulls all-time leading goal scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips. BWP had sparked the home team to victory with three assists on the night, after netting twice in the first leg but now the talk turned to Tyler Adams.
Adams, a 19-year-old midfielder who has already made his full USMNT debut, scored the Red Bulls first goal of the night, the equalizer that sparked the Red Bulls back to life after Tijuana had threatened to run his team off the pitch in the opening half hour.
Wright-Phillips had made that goal happen, picking up the second assist when he led a slow motion, full field counter attack before teeing up Michael Murillo, who laid on the final ball to the indefatigable Adams.
Wright-Phillips was asked about Adams and his impact on the game. “Credit to Tyler, he plays like a man,” Wright-Phillips noted, adding that he hasn’t been surprised by the teenager’s personality. “Not now,” said BWP. “The first training session he had had it, ever since then he hasn’t looked back. He’s not afraid to tell someone, even the coach, or me, or Luis (Robles) what he thinks and he doesn’t just talk, he’s out there pulling his weight too. He’s a big player for us.”
In a post-game soliloquy, Marsch had heaped praise on the Wappingers Falls, New York native. “A couple of guys, you could see were grabbing the team by the scruff of the neck a little bit and saying – All right, let’s keep moving- and one of the things that’s always a source of pride is when that guy is Tyler.”
The coach said of Adams that “his fearlessness and his way of going after games and of being up for big moments is something that makes our team good.”
When I spoke to Adams in late February at the club’s Media Day at Red Bull Arena the “fearlessness” that Marsch spoke of was on display when I asked Adams if he was ok with being tagged as the poster boy of the Play your kids movement.
Adams never flinched. “Yeah, I would say so. Of course, it’s important, giving the young kids an opportunity, one way or another will prove what they’re capable of.” “I think that for me,” Adams said then, “it came at a young age. I think that Jesse put some big goals in front of me and I was able to reach them.” “This year I’m looking to exceed those goals,” the ambitious youngster said.
So, for Adams the role model, em role, is a comfortable fit. “If you want to consider me the poster boy of having young kids play, I think that it’s definitely an influential role for a lot of young guys that you know, there’s inspiration. There’s guys that are doing it. There’s guys that were even before me, like Kellyn Acosta, who was playing at such a young age.”
But back to Tuesday night and Bradley Wright-Phillips who was asked if he had ever seen a young player with that attitude. In England, perhaps?
Wright-Phillips thought for a moment before answering, “Gareth Bale.” “I saw a similar attitude,” BWP said of his former teammate at Southampton before catching himself. “Don’t get me wrong,” the veteran striker warned the press stragglers, “I know you guys like to twist things,” he said to a chorus of laughter. “I’m not saying they’re the same player, or that he’s going to have the same career as him but they both have a mentality where they know what they’re good at and you know, they’re not afraid when they step out on the field.”
Then BWP was off, but not before the night ended with one last moment of levity as Wright-Phillips turned back to jokingly admonish the media types when he heard one wit comment, “we have our headline now.”