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A seamless transition: Tyler Adams shines in Germany

Stuttgart's Alexander Esswein, center left, and Leipzig's Tyler Adams, center right, challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between VfB Stuttgart and RB Leipzig in Stuttgart, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. (Sebastian Gollnow/dpa via AP)

STUTTGART, Germany — Tyler Adams continues to impress in Germany. On Saturday, the United States men’s national team player got his third start and the fourth appearance overall in the Bundesliga since joining RasenBallsport Leipzig in January. 

It was a clash of wills in front of an announced 46,072 spectators at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Stuttgart. The home team, VfB Stuttgart, was desperate for three points in the relegation battle, but Leipzig walked away with a 3-1 victory. 

VfB Stuttgart is one of Germany’s most historic clubs, located in one of the country’s biggest cities. A second relegation in just three years would be a major catastrophe in the capital city of Baden-Württenberg. 

Furthermore, like with most German fan groups, there is no love lost on RasenBallsport Leipzig among the Stuttgart supporters. RB Leipzig, in general, is seen as an abomination and a construct to make money, by ultras of other clubs. In Stuttgart, however, that level of hate is upped by the fact that Leipzig signed Timo Werner from Stuttgart in 2016. The young German national team striker is particularly subjected to boos and whistles throughout 90 minutes Saturday.

Stuttgart head coach Markus Weinzierl identified that Leipzig struggles against physical opponents. Fouls and many one-v-one situations with harsh challenges dominated the match.

“It wasn’t our best game, we had to work hard for this victory,” RB Leipzig forward Yussuf Poulsen said after the game. 

“We are used to play against teams that use physical components to break us down. But the first half was brutal for us,” RB Leipzig’s captain Willi Orban added after the game. 

Right in the middle of it was Tyler Adams, who played a crucial position in the middle of the park. Playing the pivot, the 20-year-old drifted back and forward between the backline and the attacking lines, playing like a typical box-to-box midfielder. 

Like the rest of the team, the 20-year-old started well. In the 5th minute, Leipzig took the lead thanks to a goal by Poulsen, who converted an assist by Timo Werner inside the box. But then Leipzig lost control of the match. “We didn’t play well from the 5th to the 68th minute,” Leipzig head coach Ralf Rangnick later told reporters. 

“In the first half, the Red Bulls struggled to play to their strengths — winning balls and quick transition play were almost non-existent,” Anton Zirk, a journalist who regularly covers RB Leipzig for the German publication Sportbuzzer, explained to Pro Soccer USA. 

It was in that period that Stuttgart managed to equalize thanks to a controversial decision that led to a penalty in the 16th minute. Orban saw the ball hit his arm after a duel with Stuttgart striker Mario Gómez and to the bewilderment of the defender referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot. Steven Zuber stepped up and easily scored. 

That goals somewhat took the rhythm from Leipzig and Adams. “He was a bit infected by our airy-fairy play in the first half,” Rangnick told Pro Soccer USA after the game. Leipzig and Adams struggled with the noisy atmosphere and Stuttgart’s at times brutal play. 

The Bundesliga can be a brutal environment. With just 18 teams, it is the smallest of all the major competitions in Europe and, as a result, the gap between relegation and European glory can be minimal. 

It also means that big clubs like Stuttgart can find themselves in a fight for survival very quickly. In this case, it was all about destroying any buildup play in Leipzig’s midfield, in the very area where Adams operates. 

Adams’ pass completion rate suffered a bit in the game. He completed an unusually low 78 percent of his passes — in comparison with 92 percent against Hannover two weeks ago.

“We just couldn’t find our rhythm,” Poulsen explained after the game, “but you can’t play every game perfect over 90 minutes,” he quickly added. That was also partly because Diego Demme, Adams midfield partner, and Tyler Adams struggled to get control of the match.

Rangnick, however, is considered one of the best tactically in Germany. Coaching the club on an interims basis until Julian Nagelsmann takes over next season, Rangnick can read a game like a book and small adjustments meant that Leipzig slowly got back into the game.

Another controversial decision led to Leipzig’s second goal in the 68th minute. Poulsen and Stuttgart defender Ozan Kabak got entangled at the edge of the box in a fifty-fifty situation, and referee Zwayer decided to award Leipzig a freekick, which Marcel Sabitzer converted with a beautifully circled ball. 

That goal gave Leipzig the confidence it needed. The midfield was now better organized and Adams, in particular, organized the game for the Red Bulls well by gliding through the midfield area and playing key passes. 

He then played a key role in Leipzig’s third goal. Winning the ball in midfield, he stepped past two Stuttgart players and then played a no-look pass to Poulsen, who broke in the box to score a goal and make it 3-1 in the 74th minute. 

“It was a brilliant assist,” Rangnick said. “The way he won the ball and then played it directly to Poulsen highlights why we wanted to get him in the winter.”

Adams, in particular, benefited from the small adjustments Rangnick made throughout the game. Modifications that are, however, not always easy to complete on the pitch in a tough Bundesliga battle. It highlighted Adams’ ability to quickly adjust to new situations in an extraordinary environment for the 20-year-old adjusting to a new country, culture and league.

“Perhaps that is because the philosophy at the New York Red Bulls and RB Leipzig are very similar,” Zirk said.

Said Rangnick: “Tyler Adams ‘only’ has to get used to life in Germany. On the pitch, he has to continue from where he left off in MLS. I can only confirm that, and have already said it after the last game, it feels like [Tyler Adams] has been with us for some time.”

It also helps that Adams gets to work with assistant Jesse Marsch, the very same coach that helped him develop his game in New York.

“I’m excited about it because I know that he was one of the people that had belief in me from my first steps here, so I’m excited to go there and have the opportunity to learn from him again,” Adams told Pro Soccer USA about Marsch following the completion of the 2018 MLS season.

Seeing Adams play and interact with the German media — his introduction press conference comes to mind, where he joked with Rangnick and the press — makes it sometimes easy to forget he is still a teenager. 

“He is an excellent kid with an incredible mentality, which was registered from the very first day and was taken up with open arms,” Rangnick concluded.

His ability to quickly win over the media and fans, however, was another important aspect in his integration and highlights his positive mentality.

“From the very first day, it was clear that Tyler Adams would have success in Leipzig,” Zirk said. “But that isn’t just due to his talent but also comes from how he tackles things. Little mistakes don’t face him. Quite the opposite, he is willing to learn and improves his ability sometimes within one game. That is very impressive.”

The game against Stuttgart is a perfect example of this. Adams, confronted with a new situation, quickly adapted and learned to come up with solutions to improve his game, and as a result, made his team better.

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