Tyler Adams provides USMNT edge: ‘Transcends our entire generation’


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Luis Robles is bullish on the chances the U.S. men’s national team will upset the Netherlands on Saturday in their Round-of-16 World Cup match in Al Rayyan, Qatar, and advance to the quarterfinals. 


Two words. 

“Tyler Adams,’’ Robles told The Post over the phone Friday from Qatar. “A guy like Tyler Adams is why I have so much optimism for [Saturday].’’ 

Robles, the former record-setting MLS goalkeeper, played for three-and-a-half seasons with Adams on the Red Bulls and he also spent some time with the USMNT. First impressions can be powerful, and Robles recalled the first day he met Adams, who’s now the captain of the U.S. team. 

“I remember his very first training session when he was 16 years old, his parents dropped him off and he ends up having a below-average training session,’’ Robles recalled. “But the thing that stuck out — and all the veterans in the locker room took notice — was he was just relentless and he was fearless. This is why he’s the captain of the U.S. national team. A lot of it has to do with his mentality. I think it transcends our entire generation.’’ 

Robles, who grew up in North Jersey, is 38. Adams, who’s from Wappingers Falls, is 23. They intersected on the same team for a few years, but came from totally different times in the sport. 

Tyler Adams dribbles during the USMNT's win over Iran.
Tyler Adams dribbles during the USMNT’s win over Iran.
Getty Images

“I grew up in a generation where, yeah, we played soccer, but there was definitely some insecurity with that,’’ Robles said, referring to how much more advanced the rest of the world was in soccer. “Tyler and his generation and the kids that we’re watching play right now on the world stage … the fearlessness in them the way they approach the game I don’t think my generation had. 

“They think, ‘Why not me?’ Instead of looking across the pitch and seeing that they’re about to play the Netherlands or Brazil. They don’t care who they’re playing. They’re fearless, and I think that’s what makes this generation so special.’’ 

While watching the U.S. matches, whenever there’s a crucial defensive play to be made or a player’s out of position and needs support, Adams always seems to track back with his remarkable recovery speed to save the moment. 

“The mileage and the range that he covers is incredible, it’s off the charts,’’ Robles said. “His first few steps to close down ground is elite. If he was a defensive back in the NFL, he’d be elite the way that he’s able to close down space so quickly.’’ 

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Mike Grella, another former Red Bulls teammate of Adams, like Robles didn’t see this coming back when the 16-year-old would be dropped off at training by his parents. 

“You look at him, he’s not the fastest guy, he’s not really strong, he’s not tall, and you’re kind of just like very unimpressed with him as a 16-year-old,’’ Grella told MLSsoccer.com. “You’re looking at him thinking, ‘Is this kid nuts or what?’ And then watch him train, and you see him fly into tackles, and you see him win head balls, and you see him compete, and you go, ‘Oh, wow, this kid is fearless.’ He’s got this little smile on his face, you know, this little hidden confidence.’’ 

Robles recalled having “heard a lot about’’ Adams, before he came into the Red Bulls system, through his college roommate, who was an administrator for the U.S. U-17 national team at the time. He, too, remembered then-Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch playing Adams at right back and thinking right away that wasn’t Adams’ calling. 

Tyler Adams celebrates after the USMNT's goal vs. Iran.
Tyler Adams celebrates after the USMNT’s goal vs. Iran.
Getty Images

“He had too much presence on the field, and he always wanted the ball,’’ Robles said. “I remember him barking at a player to get his attention, like, ‘Hey, click on,’ and I’m like, ‘What 16-year-old does that?’ ’’ 

Listen to Adams speak and you hear the poise and the competitiveness in him. 

“I want to be a winner,’’ Adams said after he was named team captain. “I want to hold the guys around me to the same standard. I just want to make sure that everyone’s on the same page, intensity-wise, mentality-wise, no frustration, we all buy into the same thing. I think I’ve been doing that since a young age.’’ 

Tyler Adams brings fearlessness to the USMNT.
Tyler Adams brings fearlessness to the USMNT.
AFP via Getty Images

That comment brings to mind the Robles recollection of his first day of Red Bulls training “barking’’ at MLS veterans 10 years his senior. 

“When I became a professional and when I started to see players become elite, it was all about mentality,’’ Robles said. “I saw that with Thierry [Henry, the French legend who played with the Red Bulls]. With Thierry, from a mentality standpoint he was superhuman. I put Tyler in that same category, and this is what we’re seeing. That sort of influence has not only permeated throughout the team but this entire generation. 

“So, as they’re going up against the Netherlands, I’m thinking there’s no reason why they can’t win and they’re thinking the same thing — ‘Why not us? Why can’t we be the team that beats the Netherlands and keep going?’ ’’

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