“Playing soccer is simple, but playing simple soccer is the hardest thing there is.”
That legendary quote came from Dutch great Johan Cruyff, and it aptly explains one of the reasons why Tyler Adams had such a positive display on Saturday.
Adams and his RB Leipzig side suffered a disappointing result in the latest round of German Bundesliga action, settling for a late 1-1 draw at home vs. last-placed SC Paderborn. The stalemate will probably stand as the biggest surprise of Matchday 30, but one of the major positives Leipzig can take from the game was how well Adams played during the course of the 90 minutes.
Key to it all: He kept things simple.
Adams started the game in the center of the park, deployed as one of two holding midfielders in a 4-2-2-2 look. Unsurprisingly, the 21-year-old American was given slightly more defensive duties than his partner Kevin Kampl. Adams not only occupied deeper positions on a more frequent basis during the first half, but he also occasionally dropped in between the centerbacks to pick up the ball and help circulate it.
The tenacity, fearlessness, and range that Adams is well known for on the defensive side were well on display — the youngster is a downright pest to play against — and that is a reason why Leipzig was able to jump out to a 1-0 lead in the opening stanza.
Just as prevalent, however, was his quick decision-making in possession. Adams moved the ball rapidly, refraining from holding onto it too long in order to avoid overcomplicating things for himself. He even played through lines with a precise forward pass on one instance.
His role was altered just before halftime, though. Centerback Dayotchanculle Upamecano was given a second yellow card in the 43rd minute, leaving Leipzig to see the game out with 10 men and resulting in Adams being dropped to right back.
In that position, the U.S. Men’s National Team regular remained a nuisance for Paderborn attackers to deal with and he occasionally got forward well. He even whipped in a low cross from an advanced position down the flank that was just cleared away before it got to its intended target.
Adams also hit a good long ball forward from his own penalty area that almost iced the game , but the usually lethal Timo Werner somehow failed to score on an open net.
While Adams had an overall solid performance, his versatile outing on Saturday was not perfect. Yes, both the game and Leipzig were affected by Upamecano’s sending off, but Adams still had moments even before then in which he could have played better.
Mainly, Adams needed to find a way to diversify his passing. Keeping it simple is a tremendous quality to have and an overlooked and underrated facet of his game, but there are times when you need to mix it up a little more, when you need a little less predictability.
The match against Paderborn — which, to reiterate, is the cellar dweller in the Bundesliga — was one of those times.
Adams not only had the most touches (81) of any player on the field on Saturday, but he also connected on only 43 of his 58 passes (74.1 percent). His impact in the attacking part of the game still leaves something to be desired, and is something he needs to work on so that he can influence that aspect of a match at a level more closely resembling his defensive contributions.
Sure, Adams is not going to be tasked with regularly creating from deep. That is not the player he is, after all. Still, knowing how and when exactly to connect on a wider range of passes — like the one he hit in the first half in between the lines — is a good weapon to have in one’s arsenal. It can help unsettle a defense and at times provide the difference.
The good news, of course, is that Adams is still young and has plenty of time to incorporate that element to his game. If he can, he will become that much more of a well-rounded player and one opposing teams will have to be wary of at all times.
It might be a big step, but it is the next one Adams has to take in his development. After all, he already seems to have the crucial “playing simple” part down pat.