Tyler Adams: “It’s never going to be an ideal situation on the road. The energy is just completely different. You have to go into the game with the right mindset and be ready to battle. That’s the best way to describe it is they’re intense. They’re feisty, they’re gritty, you can’t go into these games naive.” (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
In his day job, Tyler Adams patrols the midfield or plays defense for Red Bull Leipzig, one of the top teams in the Bundesliga. The quality side again will compete in the UEFA Champions League, so the squad has plenty of quality and has played against the best.
When the subject of World Cup qualifying comes up, Adams’ teammates felt that he might have it easy because they view Concacaf as a ridiculously easy confederation, But they don’t realize how difficult the conditions are in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean for the U.S. men’s national team.
“I talk with my teammates on Leipzig all the time about which games I have during the international window and they sit there and laugh because they have to play against England, France, obviously some, some great countries with a lot of talent,” he said after via a Zoom press conference after the Americans played El Salvador to a scoreless draw in the Octagonal opener in World Cup qualifying in San Salvador Thursday night. “I tell them, ‘Trust me, I rather play against France, England in these games where the conditions and the fans and the pitch and the ball and everything is an ideal situation for us.’
“It’s never going to be an ideal situation on the road. The energy is just completely different. You have to go into the game with the right mindset and be ready to battle. That’s the best way to describe it is they’re intense. They’re feisty, they’re gritty, you can’t go into these games naive.”
The USA won two big confederation competitions this summer – the Nations League, defeating Honduras and Mexico in the semifinals and final, respectively, and the Gold Cup, overcoming El Tri in the final.
It’s one thing to play and defeat a Concacaf team, especially one from Central America, on U.S. soil, it’s another planet when the men’s national team has to play in the tropics.
Most of the American squad had never played in conditions like this – all at the same time.
A dodgy field.
A packed stadium of blue shirts.
Fans who whistled or booed the American national anthem.
Tough physical play, which was, of course, expected.
Even corner kicks became an adventure of survival for the squad. When Gio Reyna attempted several in the second half, police with shields needed to protect the midfielder from bottles thrown at home. The police also had machine guns, not a site you would see too many times at an MLS match.
“You’re going to take a corner, when he’s playing in [Borussia] Dortmund he’s not getting hit with water bottles,” Adams said.
For a team such as El Salvador, this is a big, big deal, hosting the USMNT at home. So, players will give everything they have. Yes, the USA had all these players who perform for top Euro sides and play in the Champions League. But talent gets thrown out the window when grittiness is needed.
Adams, who captained the team for the first time, said he wasn’t “too dissatisfied” with the loss. The team got a point on the road. It also extracted two from El Salvador because home games are so vital in a 14-game qualifying scheduled.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a learning process,” he added. “For a lot of us it’s going to be our first experience [playing] in Concacaf.
“There’s a lot of guys that didn’t have that experience and now have a little bit of that feel. It’s our first game. We have to take what we can get from it.”
They say not to sweat the details, but its the little things that can drive a player crazy or push him off his game just a bit.
“There’s a lot of things that you can say right from the pitch from, from the ball from when the ball goes out, the ball boys walking to give you the ball and wasting time in the first half,” said Adams, who played in El Salvador with the Red Bulls during the Concacaf Champions League. “You can’t really be naive about [that] but you have to experience a little bit of it to realize, next game, I’m going to run to the ball.”
After the USMNT hosts Canada in more sedate surroundings in Nashville, Tenn. Sunday, the team will return to Central America to play Honduras Sept. 7.
“We just have to be smart,” Adams said. “We have to learn from this. There’s a lot of excuses that can be made but I’m not here to sit here and make excuses.”
We will see how well those lessons were learned.