Much of the talk following USA’s 0-0 stalemate with England last Friday evening was about the American’s performance and application against a talented Three Lions side, and rightly so.
Gareth Southgate’s struggled to build on from their 6-2 rout over Iran in their first group game, putting in a laboured and uninspiring performance in a game which a win would have seen them all but confirm their place in the knockout stages of the competition.
Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount, and Jude Bellingham were all flattered to deceive on the night and it wasn’t just down to Southgate’s conservative approach, but down to the dominance and inspired performance displayed by the USA.
Gregg Berhalter’s side toppled their opponents and old foes with a youthful exuberance, enthusiasm and dynamism that has long been associated with them throughout their upward trajectory under Berhalter’s tenure. USMNT pressed and harried England off the park on Friday, not just in the defensive phase but in moments where they lost the ball and immediately won it back to counter.
Whilst the likes of Weston McKennie, Timothy Weah and Christian Pulisic grabbed all the plaudits for The Stars and Stripes, it was their little man at the base of midfield who displayed yet another barnstorming performance on the world stage.
Swift Impact at Leeds United
Tyler Adams has certainly carried forward his early season form at Leeds United into the USMNT’s World Cup campaign, and showcased just why he is the pivotal cog in the machine and arguably their most important player. There’s a reason why Jesse Marsch desperately wanted him so badly at Elland Road last summer.
The 23-year-old, who arrived at Elland Road on a £20m deal from German outfit RB Leipzig in the summer, is known for his workhorse and never-say-die mentality on the pitch.
He’s a real pressing machine, a tough-tackling menace, incredibly dynamic and possesses an energy and enthusiasm that so few midfielders on the continent can match, a player central to Marsch’s high-intensity style at Elland Road, continuing the theme and approach long been celebrated in West Yorkshire built by the revolutionary Marcelo Bielsa.
So far this campaign for Leeds, Adams has proven why he is central to Jesse Marsch‘s plans. The stats tells the story. For his hard-knot approach, he’s performed the second-most tackles (52) out of any player in the English top flight, and the fifth most of any player within Europe’s top five leagues. More crucially, he’s won the fourth most tackles (28) in the Premier League.
But not only that, he’s contributed to their attacking play too registering 1.2 key passes per game in the 13 games he’s featured in. No reason why the 23-year-old can’t be addressed as a complete midfield player, because the stats show he can be. Adams is also an adept passer, capable of picking up the ball and distributing and progressing it to great effect.
Pundit Noel Whelan earlier in the campaign heaped praise on Adams, speaking to Football Insider, he said: “He’s aggressive, he reads the game, he’s never flat-footed – and watching him every week, I have to say that he’s one of the best defensive midfielders in the league at the minute.”
A report on Adams’ style and qualities before Leeds United added him to their squad this summer from scout Alberto Cordero, according to The Athletic, proved the decisive component in The Whites going ahead with the deal. It read:
“Dynamic in all his movements… a very fast player in small spaces… perfectly prepared to carry out continuous pressing in different areas… constantly generates continuity in his passes… able to carry the ball into attacking zones with great precision and speed… simple and correct… generates effort…”
Cordero’s assessment concluded that Adams was tailor-made for Marsch’s midfield dynamic, and the stats above further prove that assessment. Not only was his tremendous work-ethic and application on the pitch that proved his calling card for Leeds to bring him in, but his strong leadership qualities.
Tyler Adams: Captain America
Those qualities were rewarded as he was recently named captain of his country heading into the World Cup. He had worn the armband internationally before but this was a different kettle of fish and two games into the tournament, Berhalter’s decision has proven a masterstroke but also the former Leipzig man has revealed in the responsibility, forming a pivotal part of USA’s midfield trident whilst also providing the team with the platform to go forth and attack with real pace and venom.
In their two group games so far, Adams has stood out significantly. Against Wales, he won six of his nine ground duels, winning two of his three aerial duels, registering 86 touches and successfully completing 90% of his 69 passes (62). He also successfully completed four of his five long balls.
Against England, it was the same story. When the US needed him most, at his destructive best, he performed just that. Adams won 100% of his aerial duels, won 50% of his ground duels and was a metronomic figure in possession, completing 87% of his passes.
Tyler Adams vs England (WC 2022) pic.twitter.com/ZWmQBnBthd
— Jack Stephen 🇺🇸🇮🇳 (@USMNTZ) November 26, 2022
It’s clear, Adams is enabling Berhalter’s system to thrive, camped in front of his back four and shielding them with his life. When his opponents manage to breach and enter the final third, he always comes up trumps performing last-ditch tackles and important blocks. Such a performance saw him rewarded with much media praise and awarded an 8/10 match rating by The Guardian, with journalist Jacob Steinberg stating that Adams had been ‘a controlled, efficient presence in a deep position. He passed well and made some important interceptions.’
Adams’ form against England was made all the more impressive when you consider that the US played with one less central midfielder than they did against Wales. Berhalter changed his usual 4-3-3 shape to a 4-4-2 against England, with Weston McKennie lining up wide on the right, with Yunus Musah and Adams given the responsibility of protecting the back four in central midfield.
There was an instance in the 20th minute which highlighted the effectiveness of USA’s midfield duo of Adams and Musah. England lofted a long-ball to main man Harry Kane between the midfield and defensive lines a few yards inside the U.S. half. Adams immediately made a strong run back to engage the Spurs forward, who was then forced to play a square ball to Bukayo Saka.
All to play for 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/GUuQVFAacP
— Tyler Adams (@tyler_adams14) November 25, 2022
The Arsenal winger then quickly found the on-rushing Jude Bellingham in the middle of the field, but Musah quickly closed him down, forcing him to turn backwards before brilliantly nipping the ball off him. A good but clear illustration of how Adams operates with his midfield partners to snuff out opposition attacks, operating with intensity, energy and tremendous levels of endeavour allowing the USA defence the time to drop back and regain some control.
In fact, the Leeds United man had a few bright spots of his own. Soon after half-time, Pulisic made a sloppy turnover in the midfield losing the ball just as left-back Antonee Robinson was providing an attacking outlet on the left flank. Saka was found in the space Robinson vacated and looked to break into the penalty area, but it was Adams breaking from his own marker at the perfect time to win the ball with a well-timed slide tackle.
He immediately got up to shout at his teammates showcasing just how much influence he has but also possessing the ability to mop up when his teammates make errors. Adams is showcasing that he isn’t a leader for the here and now, but one for years to come. The next World Cup campaign will be jointly hosted by the US, by then this USMNT side will have matured into potential world beaters.
Once again, Adams will be central to their lofty ambitions then.