BERLIN, Germany — The annual DFB Pokal final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin is the greatest occasion in German football and the grand conclusion to the domestic season. RB Leipzig, featuring U.S. men’s national team midfielder Tyler Adams, reached the final for the first time this year.
Their opponent was the German record champion and 18-time DFB Pokal winner Bayern Munich, which captured the Germany double with a 3-0 victory Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 74,322.
The match was billed as new money against old money. RasenBallsport Leipzig, sponsored by Red Bull, are after all the new kids on the block. Only founded in 2009, they have never before played in a major final.
It is something both Adams and his club have in common. The 20-year-old joined RB Leipzig in January and had never played in a major final throughout his entire career.
Arriving from the United States, Adams had an almost seamless transition to German football when he joined Leipzig from sister club New York Red Bulls. Brilliant in midfield for Leipzig, he was a big part of perhaps the second-best team in Germany during the spring, behind Bayern.
Unfortunately, the seamless transition had one minor hiccup. Following an adductor injury, Adams missed six Bundesliga matches and only returned for Matchday 34 a week ago.
Nonetheless, Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick opted to start the American against Bayern in the club’s most important game in history on Saturday.
“It was good,” Adams said. “Obviously the coach believed in me after the last game of the season to get an opportunity to play in this game. So, for me, it is important to stay healthy and to continue to grow — it was important to get those two last games.”
On the pitch, Adams did not look like a player who had just returned from injury. The 20-year-old was agile and played some key passes as his side started the game on the forefoot.
For 30 minutes, RB Leipzig took the match to Bayern. In the 10th minute, Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer tipped a thundering header by Yussuf Poulsen at the crossbar.
Bayern players celebrate with the trophy after winning the German soccer cup, DFB Pokal, final match between RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich at the Olympic stadium in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, May 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
“It was a tremendous experience,” Adams said to Pro Soccer USA after the game. “These are games that not everyone gets an opportunity to play in.”
Poulsen also had the next chance in the 16th minute. After an Adams pass, he dribbled through Bayern’s defense and was blocked at the last moment by Bayern defender Joshua Kimmich.
“We had a good 25 to 30 minutes, and perhaps we should have scored a goal or two in that stretch but missed out,” RB Leipzig defender Marcel Halstenberg said after the game.
Said Rangnick: “When you have four major chances, but you fail to score a goal, then it is difficult to beat Bayern. We will be disappointed for some time because we had plenty of chances to win this game.”
Bayern, meanwhile, were ruthless. In the 28th minute, Robert Lewandowski found the space in RB Leipzig’s box to open the scoring with a great header. It was not the only goal by the Bayern forward, who added a second to see the game off in the 86th minute.
In between, Bayern’s French winger Kingsley Coman scored a second goal in the 78th minute.
“It would have been something great for our club to win the first-ever final, but it wasn’t meant to be. At the same time, we can be proud of what we achieved,” RB Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff said.
Despite the result, Adams focused on the positive.
“Sometimes you just open your eyes, and you go, ‘Wow,'” Adams said.
He is already looking forward to the next task, which for him will be the Concacaf Gold Cup with the USMNT this summer.
“It is a different scenario when you play for the national team,” Adams said. “Every time you put on that jersey, it is a huge honor. It is a competitive tournament with the national team, so I am excited.”
While this might not have been quite the storybook ending Adams hoped for, it has been a good first-half season in the Bundesliga.
“It will be good to learn to manage a full year and to learn a new philosophy under a new coach next season,” Adams said.