Tyler Adams is driven by a relentless motor. No distance stands too great to cover for the pacy 19-year-old. A true box-to-box midfielder, that energy sets him apart every time he steps on the field.
Outside the lines, Adams gets around on a much less glamorous motor: a 2013 Accord once owned by his mother. That vehicle carries Adams 150 miles every day, from his home in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. to the New York Red Bulls training facility in Whippany, N.Y.
2017 launched Adams to new heights. After a stellar showing at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea Republic, he locked down a starting role with the Red Bulls and established himself as one of Major League Soccer’s brightest rising stars. The year culminated with his first-ever senior Men’s National Team call-up last November, and Adams’ debut against Portugal saw him become the first player born in 1999 to represent the MNT.
The ride to and from training takes Adams an hour and twenty minutes each way. Over the last six years, it has become his daily commute as he has worked his way up through the Red Bulls’ Academy system.
While the routine isn’t enviable and the car isn’t flashy, the unstoppable drive of the teenager behind the wheel turns heads. The first half of 2018 has seen the young midfielder continue to climb. Propelled by a ferocious motor, there’s no sign he will slow down any time soon.
“From an early age, being in school and having to do the drive, it was definitely a grind and a commitment,” Adams said. “It wasn’t the typical teenage adolescent schedule. The analogy to me being a player is that I’m definitely a grinder. I work for everything that I earn. It’s a high risk, high reward mentality. As a player known for being able to cover ground and break-up plays, my mentality on the field is being gritty.”
It wasn’t always Adams in the driver’s seat. At the beginning of his journey with the Red Bulls, his mom sat behind the wheel for the 150-mile roundtrip. Adams has always had a fire inside when he steps on the field. Even as a four-year-old, he carried a competitive streak. And for as long as Adams has played, his mother, Melissa Russo has been by his side. She raised Adams solo for much of his childhood. Her work ethic in his boyhood planted the seeds of his dogged nature on-field.
“With me being a single parent for a while, he was always very involved in whatever had to be done,” Russo said. “If it snowed and we needed to shovel the driveway, he was out there with me, as little as I can remember, like, ‘Mom, where's my shovel? Mom, what do you need help with?’ He was just always that kid that was willing to do whatever he could to help.”
The sacrifices that Russo made as a single mother defined Adams’ youth career. A change in his home life would play a similarly important role in his development. As Adams became a teenager, Daryl Sullivan and his three sons became a part of Tyler and Melissa’s family. For the first time, Adams had three younger brothers that looked up to him for guidance. The experience has served well now that Adams has become a literal poster child for the Red Bulls Academy, where images of him playing for the first team adorn the walls of club’s youth development office building. The next generation of New York players look at his profile on the wall and aspire to reach the same heights.
“Being the role model for his brothers has transitioned,” Russo said. “I’m like, ‘You know, you need to lead by example because there are a million kids now in this area that really want to be the next Tyler.’ For him to come out of here leaves a lot of hope for a lot of the younger kids.”
The Sullivans entered the picture just as Adams arrived on the Red Bulls’ radar. At a tryout for New York’s pre-Academy Regional Development School in 2012, Adams impressed enough to pique the club’s interest and earn an invite to a summer camp with the academy squad. The tryout also marked the first time Adams caught the eye of National Team scouts, specifically, former MNT head coach Manfred Schellscheidt.
“When you put him around [Upstate New York], obviously he's going to shine, but when you put him down there with some of the best kids from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, and he's still up to the top, you're like, ‘Wow, it's pretty impressive,’” Sullivan said. “The difference between Tyler and any other player is his competitiveness. He separates himself. When you see the U.S. scout there, you see the Red Bulls, the facilities and all the coaches, that for me was definitely the moment where I was like, ‘Wow, he's got something.’”
Adams proved himself worthy of a spot in the Red Bulls’ academy set-up and did enough at tryouts to convince the USA to give him a shot. While the scouts had come to the Tri-State area to find goalkeepers to pad out Youth National Team rosters, Red Bull academy director Bob Montgomery convinced them that he had a very special player on his hands in the field.
“I quickly realized that Tyler was far above the players in his age group,” Montgomery said. “Tyler had the drive and the dedication before he came to us. He realized when he came and joined the players, the team at Red Bull, that this was the best opportunity for him to grow as a player. After the first National Team camp, he was the best player, he was the captain and from that point on, he’s been in every camp when he’s available.”
Adams earned his first National Team call-up in November 2012 as a part of the U-14 Boys’ National Team. From there, he established himself as a Youth National Team mainstay.
“I think he’ll have potential to galvanize a group, motivate a group, challenge a group, be a sort of beacon for what a team can be about.” - Jesse Marsch
At the same time, Adams began to play up an age group in the New York Red Bulls system, effectively starting his climb to the first team. That ascent through the academy necessitated Adams’ commute from Wappingers Falls to Whippany. While his mom and stepfather were behind the wheel, Adams drove his development to the next level.
“He really is the easiest to motivate,” Sullivan said.
“He had to be proactive,” Russo said. “He knew, if homework’s not done, if your bag’s not ready to go, we’re not going. Tyler is a really good person to say, ‘OK, this is what I have to do the next day, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to get my homework done from two to three and then from three to four I’m going to eat.’ He’s very dedicated to structure.”
Adams’ ability to self-motivate made it easier for him to earn Russo’s approval when he received an invitation to join the 2014 Fall class with U.S. Soccer’s U-17 MNT Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla. While he stood as one of the youngest players in the group, he played a key role in the team’s run at the 2015 Concacaf U-17 Championship and that year's FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile.
Earlier in 2015, Adams signed his first professional contract with New York Red Bulls II, the Red Bulls’ reserve squad. Upon return from residency and the U-17s, the time came for a newly-licensed Adams to make the ritual drive from Wappingers Falls to Whippany himself for training with the USL side. With a freshly-inked contract and relishing the fact that parents would no longer have to drop him off at practice, he also looked for a fresh set of wheels.
“He obviously would have wanted something much better than a car I used to own,” Russo said. “But we really didn't give him that option. That’s one of those things where we're trying to keep him grounded. Maybe your financial means could put you in a different car, but you have a whole life and you need to make good financial decisions. That car gets beat up. It's 70 miles each way in all types of weather. Finally, he was like, ‘OK, maybe, this makes sense.’”
As he took the wheel, Adams also became a motor on the field for the Red Bulls II. In 2016, just the squad’s second season and Adams’ first full pro campaign, the young midfielder helped the team to the USL championship. He made his MLS debut for New York on April 13, and continued to earn a spot on the senior squad’s bench throughout the season. That momentum set up a tremendous 2017.
The culmination of Adams’ YNT career came in June, as he helped the U-20 MNT to the quarterfinals at the World Cup in Korea Republic. His return from Asia saw the teenager install himself as a regular in the Red Bulls’ lineup. While his 2016 debut made him the first player to complete the pathway from the Red Bulls’ Regional Development School to the first team, 2017 saw him become a starting XI stalwart. Instrumental in the team’s run to the U.S. Open Cup Final, Adams also helped catalyze New York’s run to the MLS Cup Playoffs. The Red Bulls fell in the second round, but as one door closed, another opened for Adams.
“Tyler never looks out of place. He has a magnetic sense to him. People look up to him, despite his age. He’s fearless. There’s no player he plays against or game that he’s in that he’s not ready for.” - Jesse Marsch
A few days later, he received his first senior National Team call-up. On Nov. 14 against Portugal, Adams made history as the first player born in 1999 to appear for the senior MNT and went the full 90 minutes in the 1-1 draw against the reigning European champions.
“I had goosebumps,” Adams said. “I don't usually get goosebumps or nerves before any game, but for that one I just remember going out there and getting pins and needles in my feet. I was just like, ‘Wow, this is a surreal feeling.’ I look back at that game and say ‘Wow,’ I got my first cap playing against Portugal with the U.S. senior team as an 18-year-old. Not many people get to say that. It’s just one of those things you can never take for granted.”
Having appeared in five of the MNT's six matches since last November, it's safe to safe to say he's starting to become a regular in the U.S. midfield. At the same time, he’s also enjoyed success with the Red Bulls and played a key part in their run to the Concacaf Champions League semifinals earlier this year.
“You never would’ve been able to tell that Tyler was the youngest player on the team,” former New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said. “When you watch him play, he looks like such a man, when you see him face-to-face, he’s got such a baby face. Tyler never looks out of place. He has a magnetic sense to him. People look up to him, despite his age. He’s fearless. There’s no player he plays against or game that he’s in that he’s not ready for. I think he’ll have potential to galvanize a group, motivate a group, challenge a group, be a sort of beacon for what a team can be about.”
There’s only been a small sample size as the next generation arrives for the MNT, but at least one element has stood out. Adams’ incessant on-field engine will fuel the USA into the future. While his mom’s old car has taken a beating over six years of 150-mile daily commutes, Adams’ motor has just started to rev up.
“I just want to cement myself within the National Team group. Any chance you have to put that jersey on and look down at your chest to see the U.S. crest there is an amazing honor,” Adams said. “Whether it's from U-14 to the senior team debut, you can never take that chance for granted. Putting on the red, white and blue and knowing that there's so many people behind you definitely has a huge meaning for me.
“You want to be one of those guys that can become a regular. Obviously, that was a goal with me for Red Bulls: to cement myself, earn the respect of others and become a starter. Why not have the same goals for the National Team? I want to play the most influential part for the National Team that I can.”
Touching tributes poured in on social media from all corners of the soccer community as news spread that Hall of Fame coach Sigi Schmid had passed away on Christmas Day 2018. And amid the sadness shared by so many who knew him, the messages also provided the rest of us a glimpse into the kind of man that Sigi was, and reminded everyone of the influence Sigi had on the American soccer landscape.
For newer fans of the game, Sigi will be remembered as one of the greatest of MLS coaches, leading the Columbus Crew, Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy to multiple trophies each. Older fans may recall the soccer factory he created while coaching UCLA to numerous NCAA Championships in the 1980 and ‘90s, churning out future U.S. Soccer legends like Cobi Jones, Brad Friedel, Paul Caligiuri, Joe Max-Moore, Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Lewis and Chris Henderson, among others.
It’s also important to highlight the impact he had with two teams he coached for shorter time frames: the U.S. U-20 MNTs that participated in the 1999 and 2005 FIFA U-20 World Youth Championships, each time advancing to the knockout stage while facing the likes of Argentina, England, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Seven players from those U-20 teams would go on to represent the MNT at senior FIFA World Cups, while many others also had solid pro careers. And if not for Schmid, we may never have known some of those players. We caught up with a few from each team:
1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup Championship:
While at UCLA, Sigi also assisted the MNT at 1994 FIFA World Cup and coached the following year’s Pan-American Games. In 1997, he was also coaching the U-18 MNT when he went to scout a player who had just played in the U-17 FIFA World Youth Championship and was playing for his high school in Southern California. However, as Carlos Bocanegra tells it, there was a mistake on the published schedule and the team that Sigi went to see was not playing. Sigi stuck around anyway, and watched the promising football wide receiver, Bocanegra, play soccer for his Alta Loma High School.
“I think about that all the time,” the two-time World Cup veteran Bocanegra told ussoccer.com this week. “That was my break. That was my chance. He gave me the opportunity and I was able to take that opportunity. That’s how I was able to kick-start my soccer career – pure coincidence that he was watching my game that got mixed up and he saw me play.”
Schmid invited Bocanegra, a junior at the time, to a U-18 camp. The next year he continued his pursuit of the talented defender and recruited Bocanegra to join him at UCLA. Their bond strengthened when Schmid took over the U-20 MNT and made Bocanegra a key member of the USA’s 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship side in Nigeria.
That team also included fellow future senior World Cup players Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Nick Rimando and Chris Albright, as well as long-time pros Danny Califf, Nick Garcia, Cory Gibbs, John Thorrington and Taylor Twellman, who became one of the most prolific American goalscorers in the pro ranks.
“That World Cup, playing with Sigi, had a massive impact on me and ultimately convinced me that I needed to go pro,” said Twellman, who at the time was also contemplating if his future would be in baseball, where he also excelled.
At the tournament, the USA defeated an England side that featured Ashley Cole and Peter Crouch, fell to Shinji Ono’s Japan, and defeated Cameroon in group play before falling by a score of 3-2 in the Round of 16 to eventual champions Spain that included Iker Casillas and Xavi.
In the lead up to that tournament, Sigi broke from the past and brought the team overseas for training, including to Morocco for two games and on a two-week fitness camp in Germany, where the team stayed at a bed-and-breakfast.
Bocanegra in action vs. Argentina in 2003, a few short years after graduating from Schmid's tutelage.
“He really tried to give us good experiences that he thought would help us later in our career,” said Bocanegra. “He always tried to set trips up around where we could watch games at a higher level and get experiences to challenge ourselves in different ways than was maybe common practice. He always wanted the best for the group and to give us the best experiences to try to better ourselves, not only on the field but in life and to become well-rounded in the game.”
As a reward for the hard work in Germany, Sigi brought the U20s to France to attend the 1998 World Cup match between the USA and Germany.
“Sigi had such a feel for the game of soccer, domestically and globally,” said Chris Albright. “He always communicated that we were putting on our nations colors and flag, representing the country. He drilled that in us that this was not to take it for granted, that it was not to be taken lightly.”
Like Bocanegra, Sigi introduced Albright to the National Team scene. Later he helped pick him up when things were not going well at D.C., trading for him in LA. At the suggestion of then MNT coach Bruce Arena, Sigi helped convert Albright from a forward into a defender, a move that later landed Chris on the 2006 World Cup team.
“He had an excellent ability to teach multiple positions; he could make me a better forward, wide midfielder, defender,” Albright said. “He could teach principles of different positions to help each player grow, and that teaching element in developing us at that time was unique.”
Twellman scored four goals in the tournament, good for third overall, thus becoming the first American to capture a scoring award (Bronze Boot) in a FIFA World Youth Championship.
Twellman accepts the Bronze Boot alongside then U.S. Soccer president Dr. Robert S. Contiguglia.
“When people talk about Sigi, they talk about his love of the game,” Twellman said, who a few months later would leave Maryland to sign with 1860 Munich in Germany. “But he was also a gentleman and was kind off the field. Every single one of us on that team, if we saw Sigi 3-4-5-10 years down the road…he always watched our games, even when he was not our coach. He was always willing to talk to us, showed interested in us, asked us about our lives.”
Now the Technical Director of MLS Cup champion Atlanta United, Bocanegra draws from those early experiences under Schmid.
“Even though we were young, he really tried to instill the professionalism in us,” Bocanegra said. “The detail, structure, organization – challenging us. He always made time to make people feel important. He never stopped, through college, through pros, was always available. He was pretty special.”
2005 Under-20 World Youth Championship
A week after that 1999 U-20 tournament came to an end for the USA, Sigi also began his pro career, taking the helm of his hometown LA Galaxy for the next five seasons.
He returned to coach the U-20 MNT in October 2014, having only a couple months to scout and prep players for January’s U-20 Concacaf Championship.
Two years earlier, Schmid’s Galaxy had eliminated Kansas City and veteran National Team player Peter Vermes from the MLS Cup Playoffs. After the game, Vermes recalled this week, Schmid approached him and told him he’d like to have him on his staff one day.
Fast-forward to fall 2014, a since-retired Vermes called Sigi and reminded him of that conversation. Schmid held true and invited Vermes to a three-week U-20 camp. After a week of evaluating, Schmid told Vermes he had earned one of the assistant coach positions.
“It was a great opportunity for me just to be around somebody like him with as much knowledge and experience that he had,” Vermes said, who enters the 2019 season as the longest tenured MLS coach, having taken the reigns of Sporting KC in 2009. “I already knew I wanted to coach for a long time, but what those experiences give you is like anything – when you first want to do something, you’re excited, you’re ambitious, you’re motivated, you’re all those things. But sometimes you lack the confidence. For me, Sigi gave me a direction that I felt comfortable with because I had gotten a chance to see a lot of different things that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t get that chance to be with him and spend all that time, and the preparation, and everything. It was a great experience.”
Schmid’s first friendly was in November in Ft. Lauderdale. Due to College Cup, some would-be regulars were not available, so Schmid called in four new players, including UCLA speedster Marvell Wynne, who had never been called to any YNT camp before.
“I think I should have been more in the moment with everything that happened,” Wynne admits. “When I got called in I remember thinking ‘these guys are way better than me.’ But Sigi kept calling me back. When he said I made the team, I was definitely shocked.”
For a mid-December camp Schmid called in 30 players, including UCLA walk-on midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who also had never been on any Youth National Team. Like Wynne, Feilhaber also made a formidable impression.
Wynne and Feilhaber were instrumental in helping the USA qualify for the
2005 FIFA U-20 World Youth Championship three weeks later.
Let’s back up for a second. Sigi’s sons also played college soccer in the LA area around that era. And, family man that he was, he would always attend their games, first Kurt’s at UCLA, and later Kyle’s at UC-Irvine.
“It’s what jump-started my entire career,” said newly retired 12-year pro Brad Evans. “The only reason I made that U-20 team is because Kyle Schmid transferred to UC Irvine. Without Kyle transferring there was absolutely no reason for Sigi to come watch UCI play.”
Schmid had spotted Evans that fall at UCI, but it wasn’t until after the U-20s had qualified for the World Cup that he called in the versatile player to his first National Team camp at any level.
Vermes explained how Sigi gave the preliminary roster to rest of the coaching staff and told them that they could each make a case for one player to either be replaced or be added.
“A lot of guys in that position would never consult the rest of staff,” Vermes said. “I thought that showed a lot of security and confidence on his part, to know what his decisions were but also want to know what his staff’s decisions were, and ultimately to make the best decision. There’s no doubt that that has helped me, and I would say that a lot of the players that were identified are players that are still playing or who had great careers because they were identified correctly.”
Wynne, Feilhaber and Evans were on the final 21-player roster, along with Jonathan Spector, Sacha Kljestan, Lee Nguyen, Freddy Adu, Chad Barret and Eddie Gaven, among others who also had solid pro careers.
The team shocked the world in the tournament opener, defeating Argentina 1-0 thanks to a Barrett goal assisted by Wynne. It would be the only loss and shutout suffered by the South Americans, who won their next six matches en route the lifting the championship trophy with future international stars Sergio Aguero, Lucas Biglia, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago and Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner, Lionel Messi.
Chad Barrett, who would go on to play professionally under Schmid in MLS, scored the game-winner vs. Argentina at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship.
The 20s then played Germany to a scoreless draw and defeated Egypt 1-0 before losing 3-1 to Italy in the Round of 16. The experience and exposure provided opportunities to a number of players.
Feilhaber would soon sign with Hamburg, and later would score one of the best goals of the USA’s rivalry against Mexico, helping the MNT win the 2007 Gold Cup. And despite interest from international clubs, Wynne and Evans returned to school. Wynne became the top pick in the next MLS SuperDraft and Evans was selected 15th overall the following year by Columbus’s new coach, Sigi Schmid.
“He means more than I can really describe,” Feilhaber said, who along with Spector also made the 2010 FIFA World Cup roster. “Getting that opportunity with the 20s led to everything else in my life. I have no idea if I would have become a pro. I know I would not have been as successful financially, [and] going to Europe that early helped me immensely as a player. I don’t know if I would have ever played on the National Team let alone in a World Cup. I’m really grateful for Sigi having that keen eye and for giving me that opportunity.”
Sigi not only gave Evans his international debut and professional debut but would also bring him to Seattle on their way to spending 10 pro seasons together.
“He was the pivot for me in my entire career,” Evans said. “You have youth coaches, parents, but if you want to talk about the person who I’m able to talk about 12 years later and say I played professionally because of them…yes, it comes from within, but you have to have someone who pushes you and really believed in you, and Sigi was the guy for me.”
Sigi’s memorial took place on Friday, Jan. 18 in Los Angeles.
In March 2017, after more than 300 MLS games and having also represented the USA in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 Confederations Cup, Wynne’s career came to an end after undergoing a heart procedure.
When he came to from the operation, one of the first voicemails he listened to was from Sigi Schmid.
“Sigi was the reason I became a pro,” Wynne said. “He got me on to the scene, kept me there, had confidence in me and he kept me going. In terms of coaching, it was more, ‘get the basics right and perfect them.’ He was the first one to hammer that home, and if you ever saw my career, it was basic.”
A reflective Wynne made a special trip to an LA Galaxy game last year to meet up with his former coach.
“We talked about my heart situation, and caught up about everything,” Wynne said. “And I told him, ‘you’re the reason I went pro.’ I was able to tell him face to face, but I hoped he knew.”
“Yea, the opportunity, experience and all those other things were great, but the best thing for me, to be honest, was that he and I became friends after that 2005 Youth Championship,” Vermes said. “We always, always talked and kept in touch and spent time with each other. We had a very good relationship.”
“I sense that he knew what he meant to me,” Feilhaber said. “The way that we spoke was not in a way that most coaches to ex-players do. We were friends - he understood how much of an influence he had on me. We had respect for each other, and I’m going to miss him a lot, but it’s so important to have these memories about him.”
“We talk about a coaching tree a lot, but Sigi’s got the player tree, the coaching tree, the soccer tree really,” Bocanegra said. “So many people spiraled off the opportunities he gave them. Through soccer he gave so many people their start. But the biggest part that everybody remembers is that he cared about each and every person. He wanted to get the best out of them, and did not give up. He would give second chances, third chances - if you were his guys, and you worked for him he was going to his damndest to get the best out of you and make you a better player or person in general.”
“When I think back on it, especially the last couple of weeks, we always talked about getting the ‘Sigi shirt-tug,’” Evans reminisced. “Once he got a hold of your shirt and put his arm around you, there was no getting away from it. But I remember him being very honest with me in everything. He never blew smoke up my tail or thought that I was better or worse than I was. He always believed in me. We really trusted each other when it came to soccer and had an unspoken relationship that just worked. It’s something that I’ll cherish and remember forever.”Read more