Tyler Adams has been blossoming under Nagelsmann at RB Leipzig this season. I made a data visualization to highlight Adams’ strengths & will analyze how this data translates on the pitch and to his roles for Leipzig and USMNT.
To clarify, Adams has played a good amount of time in the right back and wingback position for Leipzig. In many cases, he’s played both defensive midfielder and fullback in games. However, I am going to be focusing on his data and play from the defensive midfield role, since that is what he plays for the USMNT.
Adams’ main job is to disrupt offensive play whether it is through stopping counters or shielding the backline. Adams is where you want him to be when it comes to interceptions and tackling numbers, in the upper right quartile. Averaging 1.5 interceptions and 2.52 tackles per 90. They aren’t mind-blowing numbers but they are solid.
While his defensive numbers aren’t mind-blowing, he is one of the most secure tacklers in the league at his position. Coming in at 6th in the league for the percentage of dribblers tackled. He may not make the most tackles in the league but he’s a strong, accurate tackler.
What data doesn’t show you is how good Adams is at reading the game, anticipating threats, and denying space to attackers. He doesn’t allow attackers time and space on the ball. A great example of this below. Adams recognizes that the space in the middle of the pitch right above the penalty box is open. This area, zone 14, is the biggest threat to a defense and must be protected at all costs. So what does he do? He immediately presses and closes off the angle towards the middle not allowing the attacker any time and space to turn and attack towards goal.
In this second example, Tyler knows he can’t let the Frankfurt attacker turn because he will have plentiful space to carry the ball towards goal. At the same time, there is another Frankfurt attacker making a run in behind the defense that the player with the ball could pass to. With Tyler’s quick recognition and the physical athleticism to match it, he extinguishes the threat as quick as it appeared.
Instead of leaving his centre-back in a 1v1 scenario with Mane, Adams recognizes the opportunity for a trap. He immediately runs over to force Mane down to the corner, triggering the trap. No fancy slide tackles, just recognizing how to deny Mane space to attack.
Adams’ reading of the game is so good that in most cases he doesn’t have to make tackles or interceptions to win possession back for his team. Closing down and denying attackers space is his specialty. This is a skill and ability that is invaluable to any team under any coach.
This ability that Tyler has is a combination of quick reading of the game with lighting acceleration to close down his opponents. It’s mind and matter. Many players have speed, acceleration, quickness, athleticism but rarely have it combined with a mind that is just as fast at reading the game, recognizing threats, and reacting to them properly. This is what makes Tyler Adams so valuable to know only his club team but his national team as well.
On to perhaps Tyler’s most overlooked aspect of his game. His contribution in the build-up. Adams gets 78.4 touches per 90, and carries the ball a total of 254.2 yards per 90. Adams is on the ball… a lot. He’s very much involved in and key to the Leipzig build up. Nagelsmann refers to Adams as his quarterback for a reason. In build up, everything starts and flows through him.
Often as the lone defensive midfielder in possession, Adams can’t afford to make a mistake or it exposes the entire team to a possible goal scoring opportunity for the opponents. His ball security is excellent and a big reason why he is tied for 7th in Pass Completion Percentage, 86.1%, out of all midfielders in the Bundesliga.
Adams’ job for Leipzig is to beat that first line of defense with a pass or dribbling. He’ll often make himself available as an outlet when the team wins the ball and starts the build-up. He’s also available to recycle and circulate play when in the attacking phase. Progressing the ball from the defense to the midfield was an area that the USMNT really struggled in against Honduras.
This is an example of Tyler dropping back and making himself available and playing a pass into the attacking third. Beating not only the first but also the second line of defense.
Here’s an example of Tyler making himself available to recycle play and it ends up being a goal-scoring opportunity with a nice through ball from him.
This leads me to another underrated aspect of Tyler’s game… his excellent on-the-ground passing. A common misconception of Tyler is that he isn’t a very good passer. This is simply, just not true. He’s improved his passing and decision-making with every season. He is capable of playing great line-breaking passes, on-the-ground through balls, and make these passes with both his feet. The video below showcases him making an excellent through ball with his weaker left foot.
Another example of his underrated on the ground through ball passing ability. He threads a brilliant through ball that immediately takes 5 opposing players out of the play.
Now, you might have noticed I kept saying “on-the-ground.” It’s because while he’s very comfortable and fantastic at playing passes on-the-ground, it’s the over-the-top or in-the-air long passes that he struggles with. A skill, that if he improves it, could elevate him to the next level.
If there was one word to describe Adams it would be safe. If Adams were an attacker, that wouldn’t be a good thing. But as a lone defensive mid, safe is everything. Adams makes little to no mistakes. He plays simple but effective football. He’s smart, disciplined, and consistent.
Currently, Adams is irreplaceable for the USMNT. There is no one in the current pool that provides a fraction of what he provides for the USMNT and is anywhere near his level. This was clearly evident in the Nations League match against Honduras. While USMNT depth is deep at several positions, the #6 role is one that is severely lacking. Adams is one of the few players that the USMNT can’t afford to lose for competitive matches.
Since Tyler Adams has been a part of the national team picture, the USMNT has lost twice to Mexico and won once. The one time the US won was when Tyler Adams played. While there are other variables involved in these games, the impact of Adams playing against Mexico can’t be denied.
El Tri has a blistering counterattack under Tata Martino led by lightning Chucky Lozano and Diego Lainez. The transitional defense of the USMNT has been poor under Berhalter but having Tyler Adams disrupting the counters can make up for not all but some of the tactical deficiencies. Adams’ defensive awareness, positional soundness, passing, and athleticism will all be crucial to have for Mexico.
Adams is perhaps the smartest (Soccer IQ) player USMNT currently has. No one reads and understands the game as well as he does. No one is able to process information and act accordingly mid-game as quickly as he is able to. No one is able to close down attackers and deny space as rapidly as him. Tyler is the most important player for the USMNT as of right now.
Every winning team, club or international, has a superb defensive midfielder. The USMNT is lucky to have Adams who at his ripe age of 22 is already proving to be one of the best young defensive midfielders in not only the Bundesliga, but the world. Adams has an incredible hunger to learn and improve which is why he will only continue to grow and excel with every passing year.
Tyler Adams may not grab all the headlines and may not have the flashiest highlight reels but his importance to the USMNT can’t be overstated.