Christian Pulisic may have the “Captain America” nickname, but there is no doubt about who is the USA’s leader at the World Cup.
From the moment he was named skipper by US coach Gregg Berhalter on the eve of the tournament, Tyler Adams has been an inspirational captain — on and off the pitch.
The 23-year-old defensive midfielder was arguably the key figure in the USA’s journey into the last 16, where they will face the Netherlands on Saturday at Doha’s Khalifa Stadium.
In Tuesday’s nerve-shredding 1-0 win over Iran — the Leeds midfielder was a towering presence, a beacon of calm authority in a game that ended with the Americans under siege.
“His leadership has been vital to us from day one,” Berhalter said. “In this World Cup, he’s been extremely focused and his play has been outstanding over the course of these three games. He’s been performing lights out.
“When you start talking about captain types, Tyler fits a very specific role. He’s the general, he’s the strategist. He’s the guy that goes out there and leads by example. When he talks, people listen.”
Before Adams was named as captain, the armband had been rotated through several players, with Berhalter preferring to nurture a “leadership council” including the likes of Pulisic, Walker Zimmerman, Weston McKennie and DeAndre Yedlin, rather than a single captain.
When the time came settle on a skipper for the World Cup, Berhalter decided to outsource the decision to his squad in a one-player, one-vote ballot at the team’s hotel in Doha’s Pearl district. Adams was the overwhelming choice.
‘Heart of a lion’
“He has the heart of a lion,” US defender Aaron Long said of Adams. “I think he shows that everywhere he goes. He is a key, key part of this team for what he brings on the field and what he brings off the field.
“He is an amazing guy and an amazing player.”
Adams, who began his career with the New York Red Bulls before joining the Bundesliga’s RB Leipzig in 2019, says his captaincy is driven by a desire for accountability.
“I’m very competitive and try to hold the people around me to the same standard,” he said.
“I don’t want to lose and have to point the finger and say ‘You let me down today’.
“I want to make sure everyone is on the same page intensity-wise, no frustration. I think I’ve been doing that since a young age.”
Berhalter says simply that Adams inspires loyalty.
“He leads by his actions and his words. Team-mates know exactly what they’re going to get from him,” Berhalter said. “They know he’s going to go out on the field and compete.
“Tyler’s just a guy that is mature beyond his years and you notice that as soon as you start talking to him.”
Nowhere was that maturity more evident than in Monday’s pre-match press conference ahead of the Iran game.
An Iranian journalist castigated Adams for mispronouncing Iran, before asking him how he felt, as an African-American, to be representing a country “that has so much discrimination against Black people”.
Adams dealt with the question as deftly as he has been snuffing out opposition attacks on the field during this World Cup, defusing a potentially awkward moment with a composed answer.
“There’s discrimination everywhere you go,” Adams replied. “One thing that I’ve learned, especially from living abroad in the past few years and having to fit in and kind of assimilate into different cultures, is that in the US we’re continuing to make progress every single day.
“Not everyone has that, that ease and the ability to do that, and obviously it takes longer for some to understand. Through education, I think it’s super important. Like you just educated me now on the pronunciation of your country.”
Unsurprisingly, Adams’ performances at the World Cup have already stirred up transfer speculation, with both Manchester United and Inter Milan monitoring his progress.
For now, though, Adams is solely focused on Saturday’s challenge against the Netherlands.
“We have that American mentality that in a play-off setting, we might be the underdogs but anything can happen,” Adams said.
“We have all the qualities of a team that can go out and win this thing. We have confidence in our group — and now it’s about going out and executing it.”
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