Why Tyler Adams Should Not Play at Right Back

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Much has been made of the “inverted right back” experiment Gregg Berhalter conducted with the US Men’s National Team during the early months of his tenure. Given that Coach Berhalter abandoned the scheme during the Gold Cup, one would think that the experiment was over. However, there is still much discussion in US Soccer circles about whether Berhalter will, or even should, switch back to this system once Tyler Adams returns from injury to play right back. I for one think that moving Adams to right back in order to fulfill the requirements of this system is simply overthinking things. Here are four reasons why Tyler Adams should be playing center defensive midfield, and not right back, the next time he suits up for the US Men’s National Team. 

Play to his strengths, not his weaknesses

It is pretty widely accepted that Tyler Adams’ biggest strengths are his field coverage and ball-winning ability. Likewise, most agree that his attacking play and passing range require more work. This is one of the main justifications for not using Adams at center midfield. He supposedly lacks the range of passing that players like Michael Bradley and Wil Trapp bring to the field. This line of thinking has never made sense to me. In the inverted right back system, Adams would be asked to play as a midfielder when the US is in possession, and a right back when the US is out of possession. This highlights his lack of passing range in midfield, while taking away his ability to cover ground and put in tackles when the US is off the ball. Perhaps I am not understanding the nuances of the system correctly, but this seems to do the opposite of playing to his strengths.

More influential in the middle

Adams is not only one of our best prospects, but he is already one of our best players. He looked incredible in his few months with Leipzig, stepping into one of the best teams in Germany with ease. Before that, he was a top defensive midfielder in MLS. It makes sense to play your best players in the middle, where they can get on the ball more and be more influential. In today’s game, having a strong spine is crucial to winning, and Adams would certainly strengthen the USMNT’s play in the center of the park. Pulisic plays as a number 10, out of his preferred wing position, for this very reason. So why should it be different for Adams?

Good alternate options at right back

In my opinion, right back is not one of the areas that the USMNT is currently lacking for options. Even if the highly touted Sergino Dest jumps ship to the Netherlands, players like Reggie Cannon and Nick Lima showed well at the Gold Cup. Deandre Yedlin, a Premier League starter for multiple years at this point, is also returning from injury. Although Yedlin is somewhat maligned by the fanbase of late for his (admittedly glaring) technical limitations, I still don’t think we should be benching players of his quality without good reason. The same is not true at defensive midfield, where players like Bradley and Trapp have notably struggle of late. 

Exactly what the US is missing

One of the biggest problems plaguing the United States at the most recent Gold Cup was a lack of urgency, strength, and ball-winning in central midfield. These are all qualities that Tyler Adams brings in spades. It’s not far-fetched to say that he would have completely changed the complexion of the final against Mexico, not to mention other games such as the quarterfinal against Curaçao, where the opposing teams were able to easily move through the US midfield. 

If your entire system relies on the availability of one player, then you are setting yourself up for failure, especially at the international stage. Gregg Berhalter should leave the inverted right back experiment in the past (along with the idea of playing Michael Bradley alone at holding midfield). Berhalter needs to show the ability to adapt if he wants to succeed at this level, and that would start with admitting that the current system is not bringing the best out of our player pool.