LISBON – A day that ended with Tyler Adams producing the biggest moment in Leipzig’s history — and his own young career — started in disappointment.
Coach Julian Nagelsmann had to break the news to the 21-year-old American midfielder that he wouldn’t be starting the Champions League quarterfinal against Atletico Madrid.
“He understood my arguments,” Nagelsmann recalled on Friday in a video call. “And he said, ‘I’m a bit sad but when I come into the game, I can make the difference.’ And I told him, ‘Yes, you can (make) the difference because you’re an emotional guy.‘”
It took until the 72nd minute for Nagelsmann to deploy Adams from the bench.
“When I put you on the pitch,” Nagelsmann recalls telling Adams, “try to decide the game.”
He delivered, like never before in his career.
Marcel Sabitzer and Angelino combined before feeding the ball to Adams. Without a goal in his injury-disrupted 20 months at Leipzig, Adams’ confidence wasn’t diminished that he could break the 1-1 deadlock in the quarterfinal.
A shot was unleashed and — thanks to a deflection off Stefan Savic’s heels — it flew past goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
“I’m not a typical goalscorer,” Adams said.
But score he did on Thursday night. An American had never done so this late in the Champions League knockout stage.
“The coach gave me specific instructions what to do and how to be dangerous and I went in and executed them," Adams said. “It's a surreal feeling.”
And with a 2-1 victory, Leipzig advanced to the semifinals against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday in the east German team's first season in the Champions League.
This was only Adams' second appearance in European football’s elite competition after coming on as a second-half substitute in the round of 16 victory over Tottenham in March before the suspension in play caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“He’s still a young guy, but a great personality,” Nagelsmann said. “He wants to improve every day and that’s why I’m very happy.”
Adams has benefited from the Red Bull energy drink company launching a network of teams, including the New York side where the native from Wappingers Falls had his first experience in the academy nine years ago.
“That is very important,” said Nagelsmann, who is only 33. “We always look for talented guys, and if we have clubs who would develop their talents nearly the same way … then it’s easier for the players to come into your squad to perform well and you see an example with Tyler.
“And I would be happy in the future if there will be more players like Tyler as well.”
After playing for the NY Red Bulls in Major League Soccer, Adams moved across the Atlantic to Leipzig in January 2019.
“It’s not just a dream of mine but a dream of my family,” Adams said. “They sacrificed so much for me to be able to play here today and be able to play and follow my dreams in Europe.”
Adams moved to a team that is 10 years younger than himself.
Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz bought a local fifth-tier team, SSV Markranstaedt, and financed its steady promotion through the lower leagues. The Bundesliga was reached in 2016 and Champions League qualification secured within three years.
Now the team is two wins from lifting the European Cup.
“It's a crazy, crazy journey for RB Leipzig," Nagelsmann said.