Tyler Adams has signed with RB Leipzig, as has been expected for some time. There is no straight replacement for the New York Red Bulls midfielder. His absence will be hard-felt.
The departure of the marauding midfielder is not a surprise. He has spoken of his desire to move to Europe at the end of the season, his former head coach, Jesse Marsch, is already an assistant coach at Leipzig, and the Red Bulls sports group have teams in different regions for precisely this reason: to acquire the best talent and funnel it into one team.
And that does mean that the Red Bulls, at least to some extent, did have some ability to plan and prepare for this eventuality. It is not as if they are unexpectedly losing Adams on deadline day and scrambling to replace him. They have had plenty of time — and still have plenty of time — to prepare.
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But that does not negate the fact that replacing Adams is no easy task. In fact, it is an utterly monumental one. Not only is Adams the best player in this Red Bulls team, but he plays right at the very heart of it. He is the cornerstone, the midfield diamond around which everything revolves. And if you take that out, everything around it crumbles.
Usually, when a player leaves, it is natural to look for a similar player to replace them. They may be slightly different in certain aspects. They may be a little cheaper or younger. But, roughly, it is about finding one person who can do the job of the first person without the team losing too much of its overall efficacy. But with Adams, there are few players that can replicate his job at the level of MLS. All-around midfielders like Adams do not last at the MLS level for long.
And so, New York are looking for a player that doesn’t really exist: a midfielder who can tackle, defend, track runners, cover vast acres of the pitch, push forward in possession, pass with great consistency and tempo, create chances, and score goals that is not already in Europe or a league greater in quality and attractiveness than MLS.
Replacing Adams is not, therefore, a straight swap from one player to the other. The Red Bulls must be smarter about their attempts to succeed the 19-year-old. Perhaps move Kaku wide and play a true midfield three. Shift to a back three. Invest in wide players and shift the onus of this team out from central areas and onto the flanks. There are many ways to look to replace Adams.
It will not be easy for the Red Bulls. Adams is one of the brightest talents in MLS, nevermind the Red Bulls. You do not just pick up another player and move on. There must be a shift in style, shape and system, such is the integral importance of the midfielder.
There is no straight replacement for Adams. Some surgery will have to be done. It will be interesting to see what Chris Armas and co. have in store.