DOHA, Qatar — Tyler Adams acted like a leader since he joined the United States soccer team five years ago. Now he has the title.
Adams was appointed captain at the unusual age of 23, the youngest at this year's tournament and the youngest for the Americans at the soccer showcase since Walter Bahr in 1950.
“I want to be a winner. So first off, I’m very competitive,” Adams said after United States coach Gregg Berhalter's announcement Sunday. “I want to hold the guys around me to the same standard. I don’t want to lose and then have to point the finger and say, `You let me down today.' 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. And, yeah, I think I’ve been doing that since a young age.”
Adams was elected captain in a vote by about 35 players held in September and announced on the eve of the national team's tournament opener against Wales.
He will become the first African-American to wear the armband for the United States throughout a World Cup. Earnie Stewart, then 33 and the son of an African-American serviceman, captained the United States in the 2002 opener against Portugal because of Claudio Reyna’s strained right quadriceps.
“For the last three-and-a-half years, we’ve been working with the leadership council,” Berhalter said of a group that included Adams, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Walker Zimmerman. “We asked them, well, what do you guys want to do for the World Cup? And they thought it’d be better to have a captain named for the World Cup.”
The last of the 32 captains announced for this year’s tournament, Adams is only the second under 30 years old. England forward Harry Kane is 29 and has captained the Three Lions since the 2018 World Cup, when he was 24.
Adams, from Wappinger, New York, captained the national team nine times previously, including seven wins, one loss and one draw.
Berhalter had rotated the armband since he was hired in December 2018. Pulisic captained the Americans 11 times and Zimmerman six times. Adams was captain in seven of 14 World Cup qualifiers, Pulisic four and Zimmerman three.
“Coming into the national team, you’re a newbie, right? You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” Adams said. “You want to come in, you want to do your job, and although that hasn’t changed now compared to when I first came into the national team, now I’m the guy that people rely on when they need to communicate with Greg and something needs to be said.”
Different players captained the United States national team for each game in 1950. Bahr was 23 years, 3 months, 2 days for the 5-2 loss to Chile on July 2, 1950. Adams will be 23 years, 9 months, 8 days on Monday.
Ed McIlvenny (25) wore the armband for the famous 1-0 upset of England in Belo Horizonte and Harry Keough (22) for the opening loss to Spain.
Adams made his national team debut in November 2017 and has made 32 international appearances. He debuted with Major League Soccer's New York Red Bulls in 2015, moved to RB Leipzig in 2019 and to Leeds in the offseason.
“Tyler’s a guy that’s just mature beyond his years, and you notice it from the minute you start talking to him,” Berhalter said. “He’s a guy that teammates know exactly what they're going to get from him. They know that he’s going to go out on the field and compete. They know that he’s going to be thinking about the game. They know that he’s going to be into the details of the game — not just a competitor, he’s also a strategist. And I think that helps the group because he calms people down and he’s a guy that people get behind.”
Previous World Cup captains included 24-year-old Mike Windischmann in 1990, 25-year-old Tony Meola in 1994, 37-year-old Thomas Dooley in 1998, 28-year-old Reyna in 2002 and Reyna again in 2006, 31-year-old Carlos Bocanegra in 2010 and 31-year-old Clint Dempsey in 2014.
“We’re not a group of guys that it's like, oh, I want to be captain," McKennie said Saturday. "Whoever has it, has it. The mission is still the same. The goal is still the same, and we just need all 26 players no matter their role to be on the same page and have the same role at the end of the day, which is to compete and win games.”