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How USA World Cup captain Tyler Adams is showing leadership

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DOHA, Qatar — Jesse Marsch knew Tyler Adams had him when he was 15. Dave Sarachan and Alejandro Bedoya saw it at Adams’ first national team camp in Portugal in 2017. And Adams’ US teammates saw it here in Qatar during this World Cup.

What is it, you may ask? Well, it’s hard to quantify. Some might call it charisma, others would call it leadership or emotional intelligence, but the meaning is that “it” goes deeper than all of that. There is an aura about Adams that indicates he will not only do his job, but relieve you of some of the pressure to do yours. These days, that might mean covering for a teammate on the pitch or deftly handling some spicy press conference questions.

All of these attributes were on display for a 30-hour period earlier this week. It started at Monday’s press conference in which an Iranian reporter chastised Adams for mispronouncing the country’s name, then asked how he felt representing the United States given that the country has a long history of anti-black racism. Adams took the sting out of the question by apologizing for the mispronunciation, then emphasizing that he felt progress was being made in the United States “every day.”

Lowered temperature.

It was a moment that impressed his teammates and validated manager Gregg Berhalter’s decision to name the Leeds United midfielder captain ahead of the tournament. Other players on this team have captained, but the role suits Adams perfectly.

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“I thought it was brilliant,” centre-back Tim Ream said of Adams’ shrewd handling during Monday’s press conference. “It’s what it is. It’s the world we’re living in right now, and for him to run it with the confidence and the sincerity that he did, I think that was fantastic for a 23-year-old boy.”

Adams followed that up with the kind of impressive performance for the United States that has become the norm, setting up his usual solid change in the center of midfield and leading the Americans to a 1-0 win over Iran that secured advancement to the knockout stage. . Now a round of 16 match against the Netherlands awaits.

“Tyler is a beast, man,” USA right-back Shaq Moore said. “He sets the tone for us with the ball, off the ball, staying stuck, with intensity. He’s a big part of our team. I’m happy to have him.”

Leaders are made, not born, as the saying goes. Granted, Adams’ parents, Melissa Russo and Daryl Sullivan, played a huge role in shaping him into the person he is, but he also played against older players throughout his youth career, and when he came to the New York Red Bulls, he was inspired by the captains he had there.

“I think when I was young I was just very competitive,” Adams said Friday. “I didn’t really care who I was playing. I think the older guys probably hated playing me, and to some extent I found myself on their teams most of the time, so they didn’t have to play against me, so we created a good relationship.

At the start of my professional career with the Red Bulls, I was lucky to have a lot of good captains to learn from: Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, Luis Robles – all guys you can draw different qualities from. And I always thought about how I could relate to different people. So when I have a conversation with Tim Ream, it will probably be very different from a conversation with Brendan Aaronson, who I spend a lot of time with.

“So yeah, it’s definitely evolved in different ways, but when I’m on the pitch I’ll do anything to win. So I just figure out how I can get the best out of all my players and just relate to them in different ways.”

Leeds boss Marsch noticed Adams’ aptitude for the game – and for life – from the moment he met him as a teenager. At this time, Marsch was the manager of the New York Red Bulls while Adams, of Wappingers Falls, New York, navigated the team’s academy.

“He had so many leadership qualities when I first met him at 15,” Marsch said of Adams. “He had a baby face, but looked you straight in the eye, said what he thought, laughed when the conversation was light and showed intensity when the conversation was about important football topics.”

There was also altruism. John Wolyniec, who managed Adams when he played for the Red Bulls reserves, recalled how when the player returned to Red Bulls II from the 2015 U17 World Cup, Wolyniec was in trouble and needed someone to play at left back. He asked Adams.

“He gave one of those looks and said, ‘Okay, no problem. It’ll be fine,’ Wolyniec said with a laugh. “He’s just that kind of guy, right? He’ll let you know when he’s not happy and when he’s disappointed, but at the end of the day whatever is asked of him, whether by the coach , the team, the game, he just does it.”

At 18, Adams showed the same kind of potential when he was first called up to the United States Men’s National Team in November 2017. It was a time when the team was at its lowest, just a month from the failure of his qualification for the 2018 World Cup. Cup.

There was more than a temptation to think that the whole program should be wiped out. Sarachan, the interim manager, sought a more balanced approach. He made his debuts for Adams and Weston McKennie in that international window which included a friendly against Portugal. He also brought in veterans such as Bedoya and Ream.

Adams had already earned Bedoya’s respect with his competitiveness and reluctance to back down in MLS fixtures.

“I would pass and try to get a one-two, he would be there trying to kick me,” Bedoya said. “And I remember one time he raised his arm and kinda put me in the face. I was just like, ‘Who do you think you are for?’ I gotta tell you, man, after the game, the first person I went to was up to him and I was like, “Hey, man. I have a lot of respect for you, for the way you approach things.” .

Training with Adams up close has given Bedoya even more appreciation for what the young midfielder has brought to the table. His work habits alone showed Bedoya that he was something special.

“[Adams] had already demonstrated enough for me to see that he would definitely become a leader by example, at the very least,” Bedoya said.

Sarachan recalled that during the team’s first practice session, he had to overpower Adams.

“He covered more ground in 10 minutes than I had seen many of my players cover in a single practice session,” Sarachan said. “It’s like when you go buy a car and the salesman gets in the car with you, usually you start pretty easy and he tells you to take the freeway. Tyler just knocked it down.”

Sarachan stops short of saying that he knew Adams would be captain of Team USA, but he saw some of the same basics as Bedoya in terms of work ethic and preparation. Over time, these traits made even more of an impression.

“When you think about leadership qualities, there are certain boxes that need to be checked,” Sarachan said. “You have to have confidence, you have to be humble, you have to have a work ethic, there’s a lot more subsets. And being a young kid, I didn’t know how that would go. But once we got had in 2018, it didn’t take me long to know that “OK, this kid has what it takes to be a leader other than his youth” I look back and think of that week in Portugal, the signs were there for sure.”

Now Adams is a full man. He was reunited with Marsch when he moved to Leeds last summer from RB Leipzig and immediately endeared himself to the club faithful. Now the rest of the world is noticing Adams’ contribution, both on and off the pitch.

“We were excited about the possibilities from the first moment we met him,” Marsch said. “However, he has become much more than I had hoped for.”

The USMNT feels the same way.

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