Tyler Adams on the run through an opponent’s back line is a sorry sight for a defense. Whether making a penetrating run or with the ball at his feet, all the defenders can do is make chase and pray that the goalkeeper makes a play.
Since his first U.S. Men’s National Team appearance last November, pace and awareness have stood out on the pitch. He’s clean on the ball and capable of runs that slice through the defense. Prior to the MNT’s friendly against Paraguay, the coaching staff thought that La Albirroja’s style might fall susceptible to the kind of deep runs on which Adams can be so dangerous.
Just over 40 minutes into Tuesday night’s game, the Paraguay defense saw what should become a regular worry for the USA’s foes: Adams alone on the run directly towards the net. Fed a perfect ball from midfielder Marky Delgado, the 19-year-old headed for goal with a prime scoring opportunity.
Before he could get a shot off, the goalkeeper came out to challenge and took down the New York Red Bulls homegrown. The foul earned a penalty kick, and up stepped Bobby Wood who slotted it in the right side to give the USA a 1-0 victory. Delgado and Adams’ dynamic combination provided an exciting glimpse of what the future can hold for the MNT.
“Marky is a good passer. He’s a connector and he’s got good feet. Tyler has an incredible engine,” head coach Dave Sarachan said. “The combination of a good passer and a guy that can run could be deadly. Tyler timing his run was excellent. They each utilized their strength on that goal.”
The coaches assessed from scouting that Paraguay’s back line tended to play high up on the field. If the U.S. attack could break through, plenty of opportunity awaited behind the defense. Part of the game plan involved probing entry into that open space with runs from deep within the midfield. That duty fit Adams’ talents perfectly.
“I felt that with my pace, one of those runs would be on,” Adams said. “We emphasized breaking the lines and taking their offensive and defensive players out of the game, so finding those pockets was really important for me and Marky. Being able to turn and play forward was really important and we did that well tonight.”
While Adams provided the explosive speed, he also made the key turn in the build-up to him drawing a penalty. Left back Jorge Villafana placed a short pass forward to Adams, who was on the move back downfield. Captain Wil Trapp pointed Adams to look for Delgado, who had found some open central space. The teenager received Villafana’s ball and seamlessly pinged it past a defender to Delgado as he made a fluid turn upfield. From there, the speedy midfielder went off to the races towards the goal with several chasing Paraguayans in tow.
“We have a really good connection that we built over the week training together,” Delgado said. “That competitiveness over the week really built a good chemistry coming into the game.”
Delgado took a few steps after he gathered Adams’ ball and then launched a picture-perfect pass downfield. It whizzed past several Paraguay players before Adams won the foot race on his sprint to the net. The 19-year-old took two dribbles and looked to cut left when goalkeeper Roberto Fernandez slid up to challenge. He grabbed Adams’ feet as he drove past and the midfielder’s tumble prompted the referee to award a penalty kick.
From the spot, Wood coolly slotted the ball to the right of Fernandez. The conversion proved the game-winner in the USA’s 1-0 victory over La Albirroja.
“Marky found me on a good ball and obviously I had to do the rest,” Adams said. “Looking to tuck it back post, the keeper took a good angle on it so I just tried to drag it across my body. I knew he caught my leg so I was able to go down and draw a penalty and then Bobby stepped up and buried it.”
Adams is just 19 years old; Delgado just 22. Perhaps the most exciting takeaway from their well-executed combination is that it may be the first of many from a promising corps of talented young American midfielders.
“Once you’re in the arena and on the field, nobody cares how many caps you have,” Sarachan said. “Some guys get older and now the next generation gets on the field.”