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Tyler Adams is back with the USMNT after long hiatus, poised for a major role in Berhalter’s setup


Tyler Adams is in his first U.S. Men’s National Team camp in 20 months, a long hiatus even by current pandemic-induced standards, but that lengthy time away hasn’t kept him from continuing to cultivate his relationship with USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter.

The two have had plenty of conversations about the game, and the national team, and also about Adams’ role in Berhalter’s plans.

“The conversations with Greg have been really good,” Adams said. “Whether it’s been throughout COVID, or when I was dealing with an injury, almost a year ago now, when everyone was going through the Gold Cup process.

“He’s really helped me through a lot of different things, a lot of different variables,” Adams said. “We’ve talked football, and what my role in the team will be like, and I think as I’ve established myself in Leipzig as a number six, his eyes have also leaned towards me being a number six in this team as well, and bringing my qualities and what I have to offer in this team.”

Berhalter’s decision to deploy Adams as a right back in what amounted to a hybrid right back/defensive midfield role led to questions about whether Berhalter could envision Adams in traditional defensive midfield role. Even Adams himself was left thinking that he would have to prove himself to Berhalter as a viable long-term defensive midfield option, though Berhalter disputes the notion that he didn’t, or doesn’t see Adams as a long-term solution at defensive midfielder.

“I don’t think he knows what I thought of him,” Berhalter said with a laugh as he proceeded to make his stance on the Adams-as-defensive midfielder position clear.

“In terms of how we play the game, and how we use a number six, I have no doubt that he can learn it,” Berhalter said. “I’ve no doubt that he has the ability to do it. But he also gives you flexibility because of his mobility. He can play wide, he can play in a higher position. To me he gives a coach a lot of opportunity.”

Adams’ versatility has been utilized by multiple coaches throughout his career. Jesse Marsch gave Adams his first starting role with the New York Red Bulls as a right back/wingback before he moved into becoming arguably the best defensive midfielder in MLS prior to his transfer to RB Leipzig.

Now, at Leipzig, Adams has been deployed by Julian Nagelsmann as a right back, right wingback, and even as a central defense, though Adams has seen more recent playing time in his preferred defensive midfield role.

The Adams-Berhalter player-coach relationship has been a collaborative one, not necessarily a conflict of wills between a player who wants one position and a coach hesitant to play him there. Long-term injuries, followed by a pandemic, led to the current 20-month break Adams had from the USMNT, but that hasn’t kept Adams from continuing to benefit from Berhalter’s tutelage.

“I think that he’s also been able to help me think about the game in a different way as well,” Adams said. “He has a similar style to the way Julian Nagelsmann plays so my development under Julian has allowed me to make the understanding of my game evolve here as well. So that’s been really good.

“(Berhalter) has a lot of bright ideas and I’m just hoping we can now implement them in the game scenarios and just continue to progress.”

Adams enters camp as the clear-cut top option for the defensive midfield role in Berhalter’s system, given Berhalter’s preference for Weston McKennie in an attacking midfield role. Berhalter has stated on multiple occasions that he sees Adams as a key figure in central midfield, though his dynamism could see him deployed further upfield rather than simply being tied to a defensive midfield spot.

Adams is ready to play whichever position Berhalter deploys him in.

“I’m one of those players that’s willing to do whatever to obviously help the team in that time and moment,” Adams said. “Greg’s idea, when we played Ecuador, we won the match, right? So at the end of the day, it was a tactical variation that he used that was to break down the opponent.

“Who knows, we still could use that in the future,” Adams said. “There’s going to be different games where players are needed in different areas of the field in order to break down teams. So maybe I won’t always play the same position. Maybe Christian (Pulisic) will play a number 10 one game and out wide the next game, and other players vice versa. For myself, it’s just continuing to understand the roles that I could play.

“Obviously, I’m very comfortable in a central position, in a six position,” Adams said. “And I’ve played that a lot recently for Leipzig as well. Coaches see different things and different ideas, and you just have to be willing to trust them, and in that process, and at the end of the day, it’s about going out there and doing your job and performing. Whether I’m in a different position or in the center midfield at the end of the day, I need to go out and perform.”

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

The USMNT Adams joins this week is far different from the one he last played for in March of 2019. Where then he was one of the young guns playing for a prominent European club, now Adams is joining a squad with 10 uncapped players, and several players playing at elite teams, which has raised the level of competition in a way Adams believe can only help the USMNT.

“As soon as the quality within the team starts to (rise), there’s always going to be that internal competition to push each other for a position on the field,” Adams said. “And I think that that’s so, so important within the national team, especially the U.S. because I wouldn’t say that in the past there was not such competition. But now when you’re saying you’re competing with a fellow player in your in your team that’s also playing in the Champions League.

“I think that’s super, super important,” Adams said. “We’ve all raised the bar individually to reach our own goals and when we can do that as a collective and see one another playing for Barca, playing for Juve, playing for Chelsea, that sets your goals even higher and you want to achieve great things.

“So when you come with the national team, bringing those qualities together, competing for spots, the vibe of the camp is excellent with all these players coming from these amazing environments. That really sets the bar high.”

Adams will do his part to help set that high bar, having made headlines over the summer when he scored the winning goal against Atletico Madrid to help propel RB Leipzig to the Champions League semifinals. After more than a year spent watching the USMNT from afar, and communicating with Berhalter via phone calls and video chats, Adams now has his chance to reconnect with his new teammates, and his coach.

“Tyler’s a very, very intelligent player, very dynamic player,” Berhalter said. “I think he’s got a lot of poise for a person, his age and a player his age, and it’s really fun to work with him. Me and Tyler have had a ton of conversations over this last year, and I’m glad that now we’re having conversations in person, because I know he can be an important member of this team.”


  1. the problem in the dynamic here is you have a coach with weird ideas meeting a bunch of young players still one foot on a banana peel with the team early in their career who basically owe him everything. if you’ve noticed the more vocal players have been pulisic — who predates the coach — and pomykal — who got a chance but isn’t favored. though our players are usually fairly professional until “beyond cranky” the dynamic is usually different because (a) they know their career will outlast the coach, (b) they thus realize they don’t owe him absolute loyalty, and (c) there is little mix of the fawning or pleading of wanting to be involved. once involved you want to be used right and to win. ask adams the same questions in a few years once established and see what he thinks of being used at “RB” or hybrid “RB/DM” when he can play 6 well and we badly need one. it may be diplomatic but it may be less subservient.

  2. Just some observations (no real point from a USMNT perspective). I suppose I’ve probably watched Adams play for RB Leipzig about 10-12 times now. Small sample, but it does seem that Naglesmann plays him pretty much the same way every time. Basically he is deployed as a conservative right-sided CM. Only really gets into advanced positions when the team has counterattacking numbers, and doesn’t get involved in much overlapping play (check out his heat maps — guy almost never ventures beyond an imaginary line in front of the attacking third). Main job seems to be a holding MF who protects the right side, and is particularly effective when the team is commanding a possession advantage.

    • Meh. RBL often plays with either 3 backs or 2 forwards and thus with more bodies in the midfield. We play a straight 433, fairly naive. I don’t know if it’s wise to locate your DM way over on one (right) side with 3 mids in a vulnerable formation. More tangibly, teams have tended to cut through our midfield like butter. What we need need need is a real 6. Whether we get one — we’ll see. Berhalter amused himself with the chuckling coyness where he admitted confusing Adams but didn’t exactly say if he would be used more conventionally going forward. We seem to delight in Kenny Saief-ing players. How about showing some success with the right people in the right spots playing vanilla soccer before we get cute.

  3. Tyler’s statement “Coaches see different things and different ideas, and you just have to be willing to trust them, and in that process, and at the end of the day, it’s about going out there and doing your job and performing. Whether I’m in a different position or in the center midfield at the end of the day, I need to go out and perform.” shows just how mature a player he is…regardless of his actual age. Granted I still don’t trust what Gregg is preaching, but I’m dealing with things from afar and not privy to the team meetings/discussions.
    Pulisic, Adams, McKennie, Brooks, Dest & Steffen are all Inked into the 23 when healthy. This camp will hopefully help others (Reyna, Robinson, Richards, Miazga, Cardoso, Musah, Weah/Uli/Konrad) elevate themselves to the point that if not “Inked” into the squad…are at least penciled into the 23.

    We may end up having the Youngest squad at the WC in 2022…but it will lay the foundation for a serious run in 2026.

    • Adams played RB and CM for Marsch, he’s played both for Nagelsman and often plays different tactical roles for him even from the same position. The question isn’t really where does he start but what is he being asked to do and where in the field does he play.

      • Johnnyrazor – I didn’t mention anything about where Adams is played. I just stated that I don’t really trust Gregg. I agree Adams could play in any number of positions. But when you have such versatility in a player it’s about fielding them in such a way that the collective if greater than the individual parts.
        So the questions are:
        Is the Back-Up CDM (Cardoso or Yueill or Bradley) better at that position than the Dest, Cannon, or Yedlin @ RB or Musah/Aaronson/Lletget/Green at the 8? If the answer is No…than Adams is the starting CDM.
        If the answer is yes…than we’ve got multiple issues to resolve in this team.
        I agree that we may have to change tactics against some opponents…but until we get to the WC or when facing Mexico we shouldn’t have too many games where we need to make such drastic changes and we’d need to field Adams & McKennie as 8’s with a CDM behind them (too defensive w/out creativity, basically bunker ball), or Adams at RB for defensive coverage.

      • He’s not really been asked to play a true wing back role and you know it. I played RB and you’re not usually “pinched in but high” on defense — which struck me as an awkward spot to defend from. If you pinch you’re usually back where you are with the defensive line and can use offsides as your friend since you are conceding scads of wide space that is hard to cover. Or you’re out near chalk on your boots. Personally I thought an advanced RB positioned inside near the mids was like a kick me sign when you’re already 433 which is tough enough to defend as it stands.

    • I’d be shocked if Tyler played RB for the NT barring injury to the three you mentioned. It will be does he play as a box to box or deep mid. Berhalter said on a podcast with Charlie Davies “The young midfielders are great because they’re all different, Tyler’s a 6, Wes is a box to box 8, Christian can go by people, and Gio is more a straight line go that can make that final pass or cross.”
      Now I still wouldn’t be surprised to see Wes and Ty as 8s with a DM as cover because with Christian and Gio more in the half spaces they can provide that creative ball while Sergino or Robinson provide the width and crosses. Wes and Tyler are there when we lose possession to recover it quickly and hit the defense when they are in transition. Now can Aaronson or Ledezma or Pomykal add that defensive bite in the counter press so Tyler can drop deeper maybe eventually. Aaronson is going to be in press school in Salzburg in two months so we’ll see.

      • Personally I find the pressing schemes childishly naive for emerging teams. An elite team stocked with bought talent can press high. A mediocre emerging team is asking to be countered on. You pass or dribble out of the press and you’re golden. Mexico did it over and over. Perhaps the idea is as we shift to the 2026 bunch like Reyna and Adams they can cover the ground Bradley couldn’t. Maybe. But to me it’s naive stuff to be bunch-defending like 10 year olds with only 3 mids on that line of the field. It’s even dumber if you shift the 6 rightward where the jailbreak sweeper is no longer central to start the play. “Here, come right up the middle.” It’s only slightly less stupid than trying to build passes up the middle on offense against active defenses as opposed to eredivisie passivity.

        We have plenty of offense, and though Adams offers some, what it has missed ever since they aged out/crested the hill were the prime age Bradley/Jones type players we had for 2010 and 2014. People to clean up defensive messes, take the load off the defense, and occasionally contribute to the attack. We keep loading up the attack while ignoring the other half of the game.

    • I actually take it the opposite. I don’t doubt some of our young players are mature — we now have players the world over — but content free subservience is more the position of the new guy. Maybe this is him or maybe he doesn’t feel either as experienced and beyond reprisal as Pulisic or as marginal as Pomykal, where he can even diplomatically hint at discomfort. For that matter the coach seems to concede awkwardness but we’re going to act like the player isn’t awkward and is coping fine just based on not making a fuss?

      • True professionals don’t make a fuss in the open. They have a 1 on 1 with their Manager/Boss and discuss the matter. If players are outing their dissatisfaction publicly its a sure sign that the Manager has lost the team.
        What Adams said was the professional response to a media question. What was said behind closed doors may have been something else entirely.

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