Eyebrows were raised when Leeds, fresh from their last-gasp survival, were quick to cash in on the influential Kalvin Phillips. The England star’s summer sale to Premier League champions Manchester City for a reported £45 million looked a steal for Pep Guardiola’s side at the time: a combative Fernandinho replacement with the added bonus of fine vision and long-range passing, as well as important home-grown player status.
For the Whites, however, the poster boy of the Marcelo Bielsa-era had left just months after his former manager and mentor, meaning the club’s summer rebuild had gone from a few signings to complement the existing eleven to a complete squad overhaul. Since American manager Jesse Marsch had replaced his Argentine predecessor, Phillips, in truth, had struggled to get to grips with the new Red Bull style, playing as the ball winner alongside another deep-lying midfielder, rather than as the single pivot enforcer protecting the defence and distributing the ball quickly to the flanks.
Two additions for the starting midfield were a necessity then and the club moved quickly, landing the signatures of RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams and Marc Roca from their Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich. For all the latter’s wonderful array of passing, the Spaniard lacked the agility and physicality to fit the Phillips’ mould, and that responsibility would land on the shoulders of USMNT star Adams: a man that Marsch knew all too well. A product of the New York Red Bulls system, Adams had been handed his debut by his compatriot in a friendly against Chelsea, scoring the MLS outfit’s second in a 4-2 win over the English champions.
"I was very fortunate that I had a role model in my mother. Whatever I do, I will never be able to repay her for everything she did for me."
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 29, 2022
The midfielder continued to impress and followed Marsch across the Atlantic, transferring to the Red Bulls’ former East German sister franchise RB Leipzig. Despite an injury-hit spell in Saxony, Adams would go on to rack up over 100 appearances in red and white, ultimately leaving the club on a high after penalty shootout success over Freiburg to lift the DFB-Pokal in May.
Since his summer move to West Yorkshire, Adams has become an integral part of Marsch’s side. The 23-year-old has won a club-high 52 tackles, made 104 ball recoveries and won 75 duels in England’s top flight. Between his tackling stats and number of interceptions, the American ranks amongst the very best in Europe’s top five leagues.
Whilst the bulk of the key progressive passing is done by midfield partner Roca, Adams has completed the most passes at the club, 611, often breaking up opposition play and quickly transitioning play with swift balls into the feet of Leeds’ more attack-minded players.
For all his leadership qualities and experience, supporters could be mistaken for assuming Adams had been around the block for much longer than his professional career reads. With fellow American Brenden Aaronson, French stopper Illan Meslier, star defender Pascal Struijk, and attacking talents Crysencio Summerville, Wilfried Gnonto and Joe Gelhardt, the Whites are quietly constructing a core collective of young, exciting players who can propel the club to the next level.
Along with Aaronson, Adams’ took his fine club form onto the international stage, standing out as one of his country’s best performers at the Qatar World Cup. The youngest captain at the tournament, the USA’s 23-year-old skipper won the most tackles and duels for Gregg Berhalter’s side, made the most successful passes, 238, and covered a mammoth 49.62km in just their four matches played. The Leeds star played every minute.
Sitting just deeper than Juventus’ Weston McKennie and Valencia’s Yunus Musah in the midfield, Adams notably put in a stellar showing against England, stifling all the creativity the Three Lions’ could muster and covering every blade of grass in Al Khor. With the next edition being held stateside, along with Canada and Mexico, the experience of reaching the last sixteen and going toe to toe with some of football’s heavyweights this time outputs the US in an envious position and a clear trajectory upwards. “We’ll be back. Better, stronger & together,” he wrote on Instagram.
His work off the pitch has endeared the former Leipzig man to Leeds and American supporters alike. Adams’ work with the Leeds United Foundation within the local community and great rapport with the club’s passionate followers have helped cement his status as a fan favourite.
🗣️ “Not every kid is going to have the opportunity to wake up with a present under their tree so it’s a small gesture from us.”
Tyler Adams on the Kid's Mission Christmas which aims to ensure that no child in the community goes without a present to open on Christmas Day. 🎁 pic.twitter.com/lHrVakALyY
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) December 20, 2022
When targeted with a provocative question by an Iranian journalist about racism and culture during the World Cup, Adams was commended after offering deep insight into a difficult subject. “There’s discrimination everywhere you go,” explained the Leeds star.
“One thing that I’ve learned, especially from living abroad in the past years and having to fit in in different cultures and kind of assimilate into different cultures, is that in the U.S., we’re continuing to make progress every single day. Not everyone has that ease and the ability to do that, and obviously, it takes longer to understand, and through education, I think it’s super important.”
After a short trip to Thailand following the US’ defeat to the Netherlands, Adams is back and ready to show once more why the likes of Italian giants Inter Milan have been keeping a close eye over him. A suspension picked up in the final match before the break sees the midfielder side-lined as Leeds face the daunting prospect of hosting Manchester City and their recharged Erling Haaland on the Premier League’s return. Jesse Marsch is likely to turn to the experience of Adam Forshaw for the festive fixture before his midfield general’s eagerly anticipated return against Newcastle on New Year’s Eve.
By: Jack Douglas / @JDouglasSport
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Matthew Ashton – AMA / Getty Images