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DOHA, Qatar — The U.S. Men’s National Team has gone 4 1/2 years without a consistent leader, but the 2022 World Cup is approaching what it calls a historic one.
Tyler Adams will lead the USMNT on Monday against Wales (2 p.m. ET, Fox/Telemundo).
When he does, he will be the youngest captain at this World Cup and the first black man to lead the United States throughout any World Cup.
At the age of 23, he was elevated to the role by his peers through a team vote this fall. Adams has captained the team nine times before, but only for one game at a time, on a rotational basis. For years the responsibility had been shared between a “leadership council” of players Christian Pulisic, Weston McKenney, DeAndre Yedlin and Walker Zimmerman. Since January 2019, 14 different players have worn the armband through 56 games under head coach Greg Burhalter.
However, as the World Cup approached, Berhalter went to the leadership panel and asked them about the future of leadership. They thought it best to nominate a permanent captain.
A pitbull-like defensive midfielder from Wappingers Falls, New York, Adams was always the most logical choice. He is a natural leader, by word and by example. “I want to hold the guys around me to the same standard,” he said at a news conference on Sunday. “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 everybody’s on the same page intensity-wise, mindset-wise, there’s no frustration — we’re all buying into the same thing. Yeah, I think I’ve been doing that since I was a kid.
At the age of 18, he broke into the USMNT in late 2017, shortly after an aging squad failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Since then, when healthy, he has been a rock in the starting lineup and a key figure in the USMNT’s youth movement. He moved from New York Red Bulls to Germany’s RB Leipzig, then last summer to Leeds United of the already beloved English Premier League.
He is, at 23, the youngest U.S. captain at a World Cup since 1950, but already carries himself like a veteran.
He won’t be the first black player to wear the armband for the United States in a World Cup game. Earnie Stewart did in 2002. But Stewart stood in for the injured Claudio Reyna and returned one game later. Adams, on the other hand, will captain the USMNT throughout the tournament; He would be the first African American to do so.
On Monday at the Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium, he will take on the frontcourt of the most diverse USMNT ever. 12 of the 26 players are black. What was often considered a “rich white kid’s game” in America is significant.
“It’s no secret that African Americans gravitate toward basketball, gravitate toward American football, gravitate toward baseball, gravitate toward other sports,” McKenney said at a news conference Saturday. “In my neighborhood [in Texas], you rarely saw African-American kids playing football. So now to be able to do what we love and at the same time make an impact on sports for African Americans is amazing, because now they can look at it and say, ‘You know, that could be me.’