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

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.”

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.”