DAVENPORT, Fla. – The New York Red Bulls boasted one of the top midfields in all of Major League Soccer last season, and there’s good reason to believe those waiting in the wings will continue that trend.
Throughout 2015, much was made of the central midfield trio of Felipe, Sacha Kljestan, and Dax McCarty, and rightly so, as they helped to propel New York to their second Supporters’ Shield in three years. But over the course of the team’s preseason camp, Homegrown studs Sean Davis and Tyler Adams have shown that the young tandem could be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.
In his rookie season, Davis certainly had some noteworthy contributions in his time at both the USL and MLS levels, starting four matches with the first team. Adams, however, spent the entirety of 2015 with New York Red Bulls II at just 16-years-old. And while both players were always well respected within the organization and amongst their peers, they both shared the spotlight in a big way against the champions of England on July 22, 2015.
“The day before they had the U.S. Open Cup match, so that day in training Jesse [Marsch, head coach] told me that I’d be starting against Chelsea,” Adams recalled. “My expectations were high. I just wanted to go out there and perform. I knew it would be a great opportunity, but Jesse told us not to be nervous.”
On paper, it seemed like a mismatch of epic proportions. The reigning champions of arguably the greatest league in world soccer were lining up against a collection of New York’s youngest and most inexperienced players. Not many gave the Red Bulls a shot on the night, but Davis and Adams had other ideas.
“Tyler showed really well that game,” Davis said. “He showed the club and the fans what he brings to the table. I just remember feeling really comfortable with him out there, knowing that he was going to be aggressive, work hard, and he wasn’t afraid of the moment.”
In a stunning 4-2 victory, the duo shined as Davis bagged a brace, while Adams scored a memorable header to give New York the lead. As it turned out, the mid-summer friendly was just the start of what has been a blossoming relationship between the two.
While the majority of the Red Bulls remained at home in preparation for their first trip down to Florida, Davis and Adams were already busy getting a taste of European football. For two weeks, the pair trained with Austrian Bundesliga side Red Bull Salzburg, as well as Red Bull Leipzig, currently atop the German second division.
“It was a really great experience,” Davis told NewYorkRedBulls.com. “It was eye opening to see their setup and observe the similarities and differences. Although [Tyler and I] played with different teams in Leipzig, I feel like we both showed well and we were really comfortable.”
Added Adams: “Getting that experience was great. I trained with the U-19 team in Leipzig with a lot of German youth internationals; it was really competitive. I got some test matches in against Bayern Munich with Leipzig, and I trained with the youth team in Salzburg. But the overall experience—the facilities, the atmosphere, the fields—it was amazing.”
As they returned to join the rest of their teammates back home, both Davis and Adams were eager to take those lessons learned abroad and apply them over the course of preseason camp. So far, the results have been impressive to say the least.
In New York’s friendlies to date, McCarty and Felipe have still been the preferred central midfield pairing, to little surprise. But Davis and Adams have frequently taken the field together to form a formidable combination in the middle of the park.
“Playing alongside Sean has been awesome,” Adams said. “I’ve acquired a lot of his traits just from watching him play. His technical ability, how he can slow the game down or speed it up, his passing, he’s just such a good player who works really hard. Playing next to him, you find yourself working just as hard as him, if not harder.”
Both Homegrowns and products of the Red Bulls Academy system, Davis—still just 23-years-old—has been able to act as a mentor to the younger Adams who is following a similar trajectory. Both players are extremely cerebral and technically gifted, but the Duke graduate has admitted that Adams already has a leg up on him.
“I love to help Tyler in any way that I can,” Davis added. “He’s mature beyond his years. I think about when I was his age and where he is now, to compare me to him, he’s light-years away. While I want to help him out as I much as I can, I think he’s done really well and he fits into the group really well in his first preseason.”
As the season approaches, Marsch has already stated that the team will need to rely on its depth in a big way over the course of the season. And with a crowded fixture schedule on the docket for 2016, it’s a safe bet that the dynamic duo will have even more chances to delight the Red Bull Arena crowd.
“I don’t look at him based on his age; I look at him as one of the guys in the first team who we know can contribute,” Davis said. “It’s been very worthwhile to partner up with him, and we look to push each other and the guys ahead of us. We’re looking forward to that challenge this year.”