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Tyler Adams ready for next challenge with U.S. national team, club soccer

New general manager Earnie Stewart met with Taylor Twellman to talk about the current state of the relationship between U.S. Soccer and MLS and whether the new USMNT head coach needs to be "MLS friendly."
ESPN's Taylor Twellman sat down with former US men's international Earnie Stewart to discuss his new role, as he becomes the first-ever general manager of the national team.

LYON, France -- Tyler Adams looks and sounds like a man ready for the next challenge.

The 19-year-old has already made 52 league, playoff and cup appearances for the New York Red Bulls. Lately he's been making inroads at the international level and is slated to earn his fifth cap with the U.S. when it takes on France this Saturday. Combined with his exploits at last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup, it's clear that Adams is a man in demand. A long-rumored move to Bundesliga side RB Leipzig looks to be in the offing.

"The Red Bulls have been everything for me since I was a kid, so they know where I stand with having big ambitions to go overseas and ultimately reach big goals, playing in Champions League," Adams said at the U.S. team's hotel. "Hopefully one day I'll play at a stage where Christian [Pulisic] is playing and Weston [McKennie] and guys like that.

"For me, it means a lot that I've had talks with my club [and manager Jesse Marsch], and they know where I stand with that, and they want to help me with the best step going forward. But all I can focus on right now is playing well with Red Bulls so that doors continue to open up."

That focus will need to be at its peak against Les Bleus, who are among the contenders for the World Cup. Last weekend, a loss of focus saw a credible road draw for the U.S. against Ireland turn into a disappointing 2-1 defeat. The fact that France toyed with the same opposition on its way to a 2-0 win back on May 28 has prompted visions of a blowout.

Adams isn't pondering that scenario but appreciates the enormity of Saturday's challenge.

"You talk about it on a scale of 1-10: Ireland, OK, you're giving them a five; you have to say France is a 10 now. That's how the game gets ramped up," he said. "For me, I look at it as a huge opportunity.

"On the day, my idols that I look up to -- N'Golo Kante, [Corentin] Tolisso, [Paul] Pogba, all these guys -- now they're my rivals. And for me I look at that as a huge standpoint in my career. Now I'm playing against guys like this and this is what it's really about. You want to make a statement in games like these that you deserve to be on the field with these guys."

So far Adams has shown that at just about every level, climbing the ladder through the Red Bulls academy, the reserve team and finally establishing himself in the first team. He has accomplished this in part by continuing to refine his game. At the moment, that involves becoming more of an attacking force.

"I think that the biggest thing I've been working on every day after practice is catching balls on the half-turn and finding ways to set guys up successfully, whether that's with the ball, finding the right areas or spacing myself in between guys right in the middle so it's hard for them to defend me," he said. "Basically, becoming the biggest threat I can offensively."

Adams has done a lot despite being just 19 years old and is looking forward to challenging France on Saturday.
Adams has done a lot despite being just 19 years old and is looking forward to challenging France on Saturday.

There's no doubting Adams' defensive tenacity. One word that comes up often when Adams talks about his game is "competitiveness." It's a trait he's always had, though it amplified around the age of 11. Up to that point, Adams had been an only child, but when his mother, Melissa Russo, met Adams' now-stepfather, Darryl Sullivan, the family of two soon became a family of six thanks to Sullivan's three children.

"Once I met them, it was like hell broke loose," Adams said. "There were fights all over the house and in the front yard, whether it was soccer, basketball, anything. So I think that that helped me, as well. But at the same time, it helped me to kind of find good management and good temper control at the same time because on the field I'll flip a switch and I'm very competitive. But off the field it's a little more laid-back and relaxed."

That balance seems to fit well with that of other young U.S. talents such as McKennie. The two crossed paths at the U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Florida. Oddly, neither player ended up being a mainstay of that particular U-17 cycle, but the two have been reunited.

"Playing together every day, we found a pretty good chemistry, and that's continuing to build now with the national team," Adams said.

Saturday will provide the latest glimpse of the presumed U.S. midfield of the future, as well as a gauge of just how far they have to go.

"We didn't qualify for the World Cup, and there's heat that comes with that," Adams said. "But I think now, for a young squad, we have to put that behind us because there's a bunch of young guys eager to prove their points that we want to be the next real thing in the soccer world and we want to prove that U.S. soccer deserves a platform with the Frances and the Germanys."

If Adams can move that process along, there's no doubt that even more doors will open.

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.


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