The defensive midfield position is notoriously a difficult one for young players. It requires a unique combination of experience and athleticism, with the former usually winning the day. In MLS, sometimes the scales tip towards the latter but, regardless, the role of a No. 6 is usually tailored towards veterans.
Mo Adams is just 21 years old and is heading into the MLS Draft with just two college seasons under his belt. But, thanks to a combination of high-end athleticism, legitimate toughness and international experience, the Syracuse midfielder could be a ready-made contributor as he makes the professional leap.
After fighting his way through the English system with stops at Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Blackburn Rovers, Adams shined as a freshman at Syracuse to surge into the MLS Draft picture. After seeing four teammates selected in the 2017 Draft, Adams was thrust into a captains role in 2018 in just his second college season. Although Syracuse struggled to a 6-8-4 record in what was no doubt a rebuilding year, Adams played well enough to earn attention from MLS clubs and, ultimately, a Generation Adidas deal.
“It’s the first step. Getting the GA contract is the first step,” Adams told SBI. “You still have to go to the combine and perform. You then have to go to your team and try and break into the squad, so that’s what I’m ready to do.
“If someone has more experience, I’m willing to learn from anybody,” he added. “There are guys at the professional level who have countless appearances and are willing to help you. I’m always willing to take things, but I’m also looking to make my mark. It’s about having respect from them and earning respect, and then I can show what I can do.”
Adams’ road to the professional level is unique, even if it is one that has become much more common in recent seasons as English players continue to find success in the college game. He remembers the moment Syracuse coach Ian McIntyre recruited him. He remembers seeing Julian Buescher leave for MLS on a Generation Adidas deal and setting that as a target for himself. At the time, McIntyre told him that it would something tough but attainable, and it would certainly be worth it.
Once at Syracuse, he was tasked with a leadership role, both as a sophomore captain and as an on-the-field general throughout his two years. In Syracuse’s 3-5-2 system, Adams was handed a lot of defensive responsibility as he was often the loan deep-lying midfielder. He was tasked with breaking up attacks, organizing the midfield and pushing the ball up towards the other half of the field.
He has the qualities to do just that. Syracuse coach Ian McIntyre pointed to Adams’ physical tools as a major asset. He’s quick, direct and powerful, making him a handful when he does jump in to break up an attack. He’s also an emotional leader that deserves the opportunity to show himself at the next level, McIntyre says.
“He’s a guy that’s fully committed to the trade,” McIntyre told SBI. “His speed of play has improved. He’s a combative, physical presence. He’s a powerful and dynamic player that really put out fires for us, allowed us to play a certain brand of soccer. We’d throw numbers forward, and having a player with his athleticism to recover and plug holes, he was immense for us.
“If you put him in a one-on-one drill against anyone, the NCAA wouldn’t let us bet on anything, but I’d bet on Moe to come out the other side. It’s not just physical gifts. It’s mentality and toughness that translates to a professional environment.”
While his defensive chops are the highlight of his game, Adams insists he can be more than just a No. 6. Training stints with the Philadelphia Union and Sporting KC opened his eyes to details, as well as the need for versatility. Little things like weight of passing and focus are key for each and every position, and Adams thinks he can play a few at the next level if needed.
McIntyre says MLS is an athletic, transitional game, but Adams won’t be over-awed or afraid no matter which position he’s thrust into.
“I’ve played multiple positions and I don’t know if people realize,” Adams said. “My freshman year, I played centerback when Miles Robinson went into national team camp. I’ve also played as an 8. It’s good to be versatile. You may not go into a club and cement the position you want so, if I’m asked to play right back, which I have done, I’m more than happy to do that. If I’m an eight, I’m more than happy and, as a 6, I’m more than comfortable too.
“There’s more to his game than just (defending). We’ve seen that,” McIntyre added. “He’s a physical mismatch at times when he opens up his legs, and not just from a defensive perspective. When he gets forward, he has the ability to provide more going forward. He was the anchor for our midfield, but we were looking to take off that handbrake a little bit and allow him to get forward a little more. He’s a player at the next level that can play a couple of different roles as well.”
Adams feels more than ready to get into that professional environment and fulfill a dream that he’s had since he was a youth player in England. As a player and as a person, Adams feels ready to step up to the next level, get better, and contribute wherever he can.
The road to the next level was a bit winding and the build-up may have been a bit unexpected, but Adams is ready for the moment his name is called.
“Some people may have doubted me because of the season we had, so I wasn’t really sure if (the offer) was going to come,” Adams said. “It was just a case of taking it day by day, performing, sticking to basics and just remaining hopeful and positive. When it comes, you just have to take advantage of it.
“To be successful in what you do, you have to fall in love with the process. From the combine to Draft day to my first day with my new team, I have to cement my place with the team and make the coach actually consider me. Just the journey of being a professional, I’m looking forward to it. “