For Tyler Adams, being part of the New York Red Bulls’ first team extends a relationship that reaches far past time spent in the club’s academy. “I definitely had a Red Bulls jersey when I was younger,” he proudly states. “One of the first years Thierry Henry was here, I got that jersey.”
A native of Wappingers Falls, two hours north of New York City, it was there that his passion for soccer first displayed itself. “I remember playing in the Poughkeepsie inter-mural league, and we lost 9-8,” he says. “This one kid got 9 goals, and I think I got 7. I was so frustrated to lose. Man, do I not like losing.”
Drawn to the Red Bulls, in part by the allure of Henry, his admiration for the Frenchman was longstanding. “I would wake up at 5:45 AM, and I would watch the Fox Soccer Report at 6:00 AM for an hour before school,” he explains. “I was trying to watch highlights of Thierry Henry at Arsenal.”
Asked if he ever met the World Cup winner, Adams replies. “Actually, when I was in the academy, I was a ball boy for one of the games. I handed Thierry Henry the ball that he scored off the corner kick with. I never formally met him, but that moment was pretty exciting.”
A cherished memory, the 17 year old is now attempting to make more of those during his own Red Bulls career. A fan first, when the opportunity arrived to join the academy, it didn’t take long for him to say yes. “It’s a great privilege to play with this team,” he says. “I think more than anything, the style of play we incorporate into our team fits my style of play.”
The word ‘privilege’ is one that Adams summons throughout the conversation. Operating with a mature and polished demeanor, it is something he carries with him on the field. Appearing to come naturally to Adams, it was ever-present during the 4-2 victory over Chelsea last year.
Mere mention of the game elicits a bashful laugh from Adams. “I’m not really one to score goals, so the fact I was even in the box for a header was the crazy part for me,” he explains. “It was a great opportunity for me. Jesse [Marsch] told me the day before that I’d actually be starting the game. He said that we’ll find space and time on the ball and just be comfortable in what you’re doing. You have a lot of tension and nerves in your body because you’re stepping on the field with Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill, and all of them. I think bringing my own mentality did calm me down, and I think a lot of people will have noticed that in how I came out and played.”
Certainly Adams, along with his teammates, impressed Chelsea’s then-head coach Jose Mourinho. "They were sharp, quick, high motivation, very happy to play against us, and they gave us a better match then we thought, " Mourinho said after the game.
A proud day for the Red Bulls, it also suggested the club’s youth development program was moving in the right direction - something Adams agrees with. “The best part about our team is that we’re family on and off the field,” he says. “I feel really comfortable going onto the field because of it, and that’s a great feeling.”
Blessed with an open and consistent dialogue, communication appears a cornerstone of the club’s philosophy. “Sacha actually took me aside one day and explained ball spacing to me,” Adams says. “He told me that actually, the farther away you are from the ball, sometimes the more touches you’ll actually get, and the more you’ll find yourself in space. It’s the little things like that, which help you in practice.”
He continues, “Even a guy like Mike Grella, seeing how he plays, he’s a ridiculous player and someone definitely to learn from. In the locker room, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll meet, and he’s really a role model. He treats everyone with respect, and it just shows on the field.”
The eldest of two brothers, Tyler is now seeing the evolution of the academy set-up through sibling Dylan’s eyes. “Yesterday Jesse actually coached his session,” he says. “Jesse went down and coached the U18 and the U14 teams. It wasn’t so much like that when I was in the academy. We didn’t have the relationships that we now do with the first team, and the USL team. The different platforms they have set you up to get to the first team. It’s just a developmental path that sets every single player in the program up to succeed.”
Adams passion for the sport is evident when he speaks. “I’m always watching soccer,” he explains. “You can always learn something from it, no matter what game you’re watching. After practice, and before practice, I try to do something that will improve my ability.”
When it’s put to him that he sounds obsessed with the game of soccer, Adams laughs, before replying. “Yeah, that would be a fair way to characterize it.”
Chasing his dream with focus and dedication, it’s typified by the daily sacrifices Adams makes. “For me, I still go to high school in the morning for two hours before I head to practice - which is an hour and a half drive nonetheless. I wake up at six o’clock in the morning and it gets tiring, but my job everyday is to play soccer and that’s awesome. I always play with a smile on my face.”
As for this season, the US youth international is already focused on taking the next step with his boyhood club. Asked what the Red Bulls now means to him, he says. “It’s everything. They built me into the person and player that I am today, from age 11 or 12. I’ve watched them growing up. I’ve set standards for myself every single day - like Sacha and Mike do - to be role models for the kids that are coming through the program, so I can show them what it’s like.”
Likely to see first team action this season, as Marsch rotates his squad, Adams is buoyant about his future with the club. A journey some 10 years in the making, it has taken him from Wappingers Falls, to Red Bull Arena, from fan to player, from boy to man.
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