THE ROADS BETWEEN WHIPPANY, N.J. AND WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. -- Tyler Adams' favorite part of the 75-mile drive between the New York Red Bulls' training facility in Whippany, New Jersey, and his childhood home in Wappingers Falls, New York, is the view from the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. You can see the Hudson River down below, the town of Beacon off to the right and a backdrop of forest as far as one can see.
"That, when the trees are changing colors, is just pfffft," the 18-year-old midfielder says on a Wednesday afternoon.
Adams, who has recently taken up photography, knows the view well. He has been commuting back and forth to New Jersey for the better part of five years. At first, his parents would drive him both ways four or five times a week. They got a break when Adams joined the United States U17 residency in Florida, but then his younger brother joined Red Bulls Academy, so they had to drive him instead.
Adams got his license when he turned 17, bought his mom's black Honda Accord -- a responsible purchase for the team's first homegrown player signing who earns a base salary of just $75,000, according to the Major League Soccer Players Union -- and started making the trip himself. It's about 70 minutes each way -- "time to reflect and chill out," he says.
Considering the whirlwind Adams, now 18, experienced recently, an hour to think isn't the worst thing. He signed a first-team contract less than two years ago and spent the 2016 season training with the Red Bulls while playing games with the club's USL team. The versatile five-foot-nine teenager showed enough promise to more or less make midfield stalwart Dax McCarty expendable in the offseason. Adams jumped into Jesse Marsch's starting lineup in the fourth game of the season and has been a fixture since, only missing significant time to play in May's U-20 World Cup.
Oh, and he also managed to graduate from Wappingers Falls' Roy C. Ketcham High School on June 24, going to class from 6:30 until 8 or 8:30 every morning before driving to practice. Though he missed his graduation ceremony because the Red Bulls had a game against New York City FC that day.
"Having it come so quickly and comfortably was something I didn't really expect," Adams, whose chubby cheeks make him look like he's chewing dip, says of his MLS success. "Getting those USL games helped me more than I expected. Last year I wanted more first-team games than I played, but getting a USL championship was something that not everyone gets to do. I think it showed the coaches I was ready for something bigger."
We were somewhere on I-87 heading north, a mix featuring J-Cole, A Tribe Called Quest, Ugly God, Meek Mill, Lil Yachty and others playing softly over the speakers. It was a typical day in the life of a rising star who still lives at home: Adams left his house around 8 in the morning, got to the training facility about 9:15, trained from roughly 10 to 12, took an ice bath, had lunch and started the drive back to Wappingers Falls about 2 in the afternoon. The only difference in his drive if I hadn't been in the car? The volume of the music. "The music's at like 30," Adams says. It was at 6 with me in the car.
Adams drives like he plays: calmly, confidently, seeing openings before others and with good pace, displaying a comfort level on the road and on the field. The ease in both his surroundings comes from repetition and from preparation. He has gotten a quick soccer education, learning from Ryan Meara on Red Bulls II, while Sacha Kljestan and Felipe took him under their experienced wings on the first team.
Before games, Adams thinks about a checklist. "We talk about 100 to 70 moments," he says. "Slowing yourself down, playing with an ease and being smooth when I have the ball."
Adams felt confident before his first start against Real Salt Lake in March, but he couldn't be entirely sure how he'd perform until the whistle blew. He didn't need to worry. "I made one good pass within the first 10 minutes of the game and everything slowed down," he says.
Eighteen starts and more than 1,500 minutes later, Adams is thriving primarily in his preferred position as a freelancing, box-to-box midfielder but also as a defensive midfielder or an emergency full-back. While the injury-plagued Red Bulls aren't in position to win the Supporters' Shield as they did last season, they came close to winning the Open Cup, losing 2-1 to Sporting Kansas City, and look destined to make the MLS playoffs. Once they get there, it's all about getting the trophy.
"Who really cares about a Supporters' Shield?" Adams says. "Having the best record is great, but you could lose in the first round of the playoffs. Our goal is to bring an MLS Cup home, not a Supporters' Shield."
We were getting close to Wappingers Falls, so I asked Adams what he had planned for the rest of the day. Champions League games were on TV, so he thought he'd catch some of the RB Leipzig match. He'd chill out for a bit in his bedroom, which has memorabilia such as banners from the national teams he has played against, an Arsenal license plate holder, a piece of old Yankee Stadium and his high school basketball jersey -- "I was decent," he says. "A huge pass-first point guard." Then he'd go visit his stepbrother, who's a freshman just up the road at Marist College.
"All my friends went off to college in the last couple weeks," he says. "That's definitely different."
There's no practice tomorrow, so Adams might go down to the Hudson and take some photos with his new Nikon D3400 or do some schoolwork. In July, he started online classes at Southern New Hampshire University with the goal of getting a degree in sport psychology. His cousin, a freshman at Siena, turned him onto the discipline.
"Taking the experiences that I'm going to gain in my career, hopefully, and helping young athletes in the future will be something that would be really cool," he says.
It all sounds like a wonderful life: training in the morning, the afternoons and evenings to himself upstate and spending time with his friends and family. Soon, however, it'll change.
"It's nice to stay at home and collect those paychecks, but it's time to move out," Adams says, laughing.
When the season ends, he'll start looking for a place. He's thinking maybe Hoboken or Jersey City, something with a view of Manhattan. He and Derrick Etienne, his best friend on the team, might get a place together, or Adams could live by himself.
One thing Adams knows: The commute from his new apartment will be shorter than it currently is. "The longest drive will be 30 minutes," he says. "Well, 40 minutes is OK."