It’s too humid of an August day to stand on the side of the road, next to a swamp, somewhere an hour outside of New York City in North Jersey. I’m waiting to get past the gated fence that surrounds the New York Red Bulls’ training facility in Whippany to spend time with Tyler Adams, the 19-year-old wunderkind who’s been at the center of European transfer rumors since he made the club’s first team in 2016. The midfielder’s made six caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team, played in this year’s MLS All-Star game, and has notched seven assists this season.
Besides being America’s next soccer phenom to potentially strike it big in Europe, Adams is a regular teenager who likes sneakers and hip-hop.
He might not be a household name just yet, but Adams is on the path to being recognized as one of the breakout stars in a soon-to-be golden generation of American footballers. But with everyone who’s slated to be the American Pelé or Messi, there’s also the cautionary tale of Freddy Adu, who signed a contract with D.C. United at the age of 14 in 2004 and never really panned out. He’s played for 13 different clubs since, bouncing all over the world, from Turkey to Finland, and now plays United Soccer League club Las Vegas Lights FC.
That’s not the career Adams envisions for himself. “I mean, if I get compared to Freddy Adu, that’s just, I mean,” he says, before pausing. “I don’t want to be compared to Freddy Adu. That’s for sure.”
At first glance, Adams seems like a boy who looks too young to compete with the players he’s up against, but don’t tell him that. It’s mentioned in passing that Adams first impressed the Red Bulls organization by first standing up to senior players when he first joined the academy. He speaks directly, isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind, and doesn’t look for approval from the PR person in the room before making statements.
"I mean, if I get compared to Freddy Adu, that’s just, I mean,” he says, before pausing. “I don’t want to be compared to Freddy Adu. That’s for sure."
Adams grew up in Wappinger Falls, New York, a 90-minute drive from Harrison, New Jersey, where the Red Bulls play. He came up in the club’s academy system, was on the U.S. side that got to the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup, and signed his first professional contract when he was just 16 years old. He started to gain the public’s attention during a friendly match in 2015, where the Red Bulls played Chelsea and won, 4-2. Adams scored a goal and was congratulated by his childhood hero Thierry Henry.
“The first conversation I actually had with him was after I scored my goal against Chelsea,” Adams says. “Thierry Henry was at the game, and he came up to me after the game and I introduced myself. I was like, ‘Hey, I’m Tyler,’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, I know. Good game.’”
Adam grew up a big Arsenal supporter and still follows the team, so the recognition from Henry meant everything to him. “I had the opportunity to practice with him a couple times here,” he says. “It was truly amazing and just a dream come true, to play with a guy of that caliber.”
His athletic ability and leadership, uncommon for someone his age, have drawn comparisons to other American soccer protégés, mainly Christian Pulisic, who plays for Borussia Dortmund in Germany’s Bundesliga. “Christian is, credit to him, an icon of U.S. soccer and what it’s like to develop a player properly in the U.S.,” he says. “For me, obviously, I’m just gonna be myself. I’m always gonna do my thing, but you wanna be noticed as the next big thing and the next high-caliber player.”
Adams has been able to help stabilize a New York Red Bulls midfield that lost its captains, Dax McCarty and Sacha Kljestan, in consecutive seasons. Like Adams, both of those players saw time with the U.S. Men’s National Team. McCarty and Kljestan symbolized, to some American supporters, a sign that the team was relying on older crowd favorites (they’re both in their 30s) instead of investing in younger talent. Since the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018, Adams has seen time with the National Team, which included a 1-1 draw against France on June 9 before the World Cup. I mention to Adams that it’s apparent that the National Team is replacing the veteran players with younger players, and he responds, “Like you said, they want to kick the old guys out the door, and then if we don’t perform right away, the bear is on us now,” Adams says. “I think it’s nice for us to go in with kind of a fresh vibe, a lot of fresh faces and guys that you’ve played with before.”
He’s grown up with other youth soccer stars in the States, including 18-year-old Timothy Weah, who plays for France’s Paris Saint-Germain. “Me and Timothy go way back, more than with any of the other guys. We were playing soccer together since we were 11 or 12,” he says.
His relationship with Weah has also helped prepare him for the inevitable jump to European leagues, which is rumored to happen when the MLS season concludes. Sources point to him joining Red Bull’s Bundesliga club, RB Leipzig, where his former coach, Jesse Marsch, is now an assistant.
Weah and Adams were also part of the New York City launch of the Off-White x Nike collection, which meant a lot to Adams, given his appreciation for sneakers. He was able to score clothes and sneakers from the line, as well as serve as one of the faces of the Nike Phantom cleat in the U.S. market. “I think what Nike’s doing in general as a brand right now is really cool, obviously, with all the collabs with Off-White,” he says. “It’s pretty special to be able to go to an event like that and kind of be the center of attention for it with Timothy.”
Being an rising star has also afforded Adams the opportunity to meet players such as New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who he ran into at the StubHub Center in Los Angeles during January camp for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Adams not only looks up to Beckham, once a footballer himself, for his prowess as an athlete, but also for his personal style. Adams has been seen turning up to Red Bull Arena in sneakers like the Off-White x Nike Air Presto and the Sean Wotherspoon x Nike Air Max 1/97, clutching a Louis Vuitton dopp kit. “You always wanna get your name to the level of some of the elite athletes in the world, and Odell is one of those guys now for Nike,” he says. “So for me, just kind of looking into what he does off the field and how he dresses and stuff like that. I’m huge into fashion, so anything I can, not copy but mimic and see some fresh ideas [is] cool.”
Music is equally important to Adams. Travis Scott and J. Cole are two of his current favorite artists. “I love ASTROWORLD. It’s so cool. For me, it’s like Travis Scott is so different. As soon as you hear the album, you’re like, ‘Wow, this is different,’” he says. “I think he just did a great job, even with the music video of ‘Stargazing.’ On the roller coaster, it feels like you’re just going through a whole different world.”
He also brags that he already has Travis Scott’s Air Jordan IVs, which released earlier this summer, and is waiting to break them out when the time is right.
Even if he’s not yet 20 years old and spends his free time playing Fortnite, Adams feels he’s ready to make a big transition in his career. Moving to Europe is no scarier than getting his own home in suburban New Jersey. There’s a confidence you can feel in Adams. Not cockiness, but a sense that he knows he can figure it out. “I’m living on my own down here already,” he says. “I love my parents to death, but I’m not one of those people that get homesick very easily or anything like that. It’s nice to kind of isolate yourself and learn different things, learning how to cook, being on your own, handling your own schedule.”
It’s this same mentality that encourages Adams to take bigger risks on the pitch, even if it’s against big names like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Bastian Schweinsteiger, or Wayne Rooney. “To say you’ve played against Schweinsteiger and, on your personal scale, you had a 9/10 game and he had a 5/10 game, but you’re the reason why, that’s what’s going through my head,” Adams says. “You just want to beat them more, because everyone wants to talk about these teams that have these star players. They’re great players, and, of course, what they’ve done is truly amazing in their careers. But when I play against them, I wanna beat them so I can say that I beat them.”
You’ll be hearing Adams’ name in the future, no matter where he ends up. He knows he’s good, but that’s what keeps pushing him to be better. Right now he’s focused on making the Red Bulls, who are second in the MLS table, the best club in the league. “I have established myself, but I know there’s so much more I can contribute to the team,” he says. “When I’m playing at my best, I’m really hard to stop and a really tough player to play.”