With the game tied at 3-3, Red Bull Leipzig fielded a striker in attack who notched only one goal in the Bundesliga this season — none of Leipzig’s attacking stars scored. So manager Ralph Hasenhuettl summoned a 21-year-old to the attacking midfield role that he had practiced with in training but usually used by a young midfielder because of the physical demands the position presented. It was a no-brainer.
Tyler Adams, a 20-year-old about two years younger than the opposition, was ready. He scored two minutes after coming on, wrapped up the Bundesliga’s second-youngest ever scorer in the competition and delivered Leipzig a place in the Champions League semifinals for the first time in its 14-year history. The 7-3 aggregate win was the Red Bulls’ second straight shutout in the Champions League, after they beat Lazio 3-0 on the opening leg.
“I thought it was going to be a different game,” Adams said. “They’ve been out of the competition for a long time and I think they were pretty much done before we got here, so we knew that this was going to be really difficult for us.”
The 5-foot-7 Adams, the youngest American to score in the Champions League (the previous youngest was Alberth Elis, who was 6 years, 9 months, and 8 days), had not scored a goal since Nov. 6, after coming on as a second-half substitute for Bobby Wood against Columbus Crew SC in the United States Cup. Since then, he had only two goals in 28 games in all competitions for Leipzig, but his presence on the field was felt: Adams was awarded German League Player of the Month for February, after helping Leipzig end the Bundesliga’s longest winless streak, and also was a member of Germany’s World Cup 2018 roster in Russia.
“It was a combination of the defense and me scoring and letting the team know that we need me in that position,” Adams said. “But also coming in there knowing how aggressive the team is with the counterattack and the fast, quick midfielders like the [Robert] Lewandowskis of the world.
“That makes you a player. That makes you an athlete. That makes you a killer on the field.”
Leipzig’s attack is a motley crew that includes 21-year-old Jean-Kevin Augustin and 27-year-old Austrian Timo Werner. It features two Bundesliga’s top scorers (Messi Messi?); two world-class defensive midfielders (Pep Guardiola? Guardiola?), the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year (Augustin) and the country’s best German (Nwazi Kanu); and some of Europe’s top young talent, most notably 17-year-old midfielder Dennis Schroder, who helped Germany win the Under-17 World Cup in November 2016. The Red Bulls could have at least three American players — Quincy Amarikwa, who is only 17, and the 19-year-old Maxwell Lloyd and 20-year-old Tim Cason — playing at some point in the semifinals.
Adams may not have had a preseason goal to show for it, but there was no doubting he was a player worth watching, especially against a side such as Leipzig that likes to press from the start and play long balls, forcing its opponents to stretch out.
“With it being such a young team they don’t have much experience in that kind of game,” U.S. men’s national team coach Bruce Arena said. “Tyler was terrific for them.”
Adams made a dangerous breakaway in the 29th minute and almost scored. Aged just 20, Adams finds himself one step closer to the MLS Cup.
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