World Cup: How USMNT captain Tyler Adams was shaped by his time in high school


WAPPINGERS FALLS, NY – At Roy C. Ketcham High School, you can feel the love for Tyler Adams.

A trophy case by the gym features his Red Bulls jersey. The principal has a signed photo with him from Adams’ graduation in his office.

The midfielder’s father even greets me in a Leeds United hoodie the day I happen to visit the school.

At just 23, Adams is the captain for the USMNT in a World Cup, with Friday’s massive clash vs. England approaching.

His ascent has been striking for those who knew him during adolescence.

World Cup: How USMNT captain Tyler Adams was shaped by his time in high school

Tyler Adams is seen with his father Darryl Sullivan (left) and Ketcham principal David Seipp during an early makeshift graduation. He played for the Red Bulls vs. NYCFC later that day

Adams balanced a growing pro soccer career with his studies whilst at Roy C. Ketcham

Adams balanced a growing pro soccer career with his studies whilst at Roy C. Ketcham

‘I’m still giddy when I watch Tyler play,’ said Matthew Paino, a family friend of Adams and also a teacher in the history department.

‘I’m intimidated, because here’s this kid that I saw walking around the halls of Ketcham eating chicken nuggets from a cafeteria, and now he’s playing Liverpool on TV? I try to watch every single one of his games and it’s surreal.’

‘He’s Tyler,’ adds principal David Seipp. ‘He doesn’t wanna be above everybody else, he just wants to be him. It’s incredible, it’s surreal… because he’s homegrown and he’s this worldwide famous person.’

While Adams’ Ketcham graduation five years ago may feel like a lifetime away, that time has only allowed his reputation in Dutchess County to burgeon.

As the midfielder has shot up the ranks of the soccer world, his bonds to Ketcham feel even more important.

‘Everyone comes and asks “how’s he doing? What’s going on?,'” his father Darryl Sullivan said. ‘It’s just a big piece of everyone’s life.’

(Note: Sullivan is Adams’ stepfather, but he refers to him as his father and his three sons as his brothers. His biological father is not in his life.) 

Adams’ high school experience required sacrifice – and not just from him.

From the age of 16, Adams was balancing a pro soccer career with his schoolwork, as he was first signed to Red Bulls II at that age.

Straddling those two worlds was a task that took a collective effort.

Teachers worked with Adams – who would attend two or three classes in the morning before heading to training – to keep him up to date with lessons.

His parents frequently drove him the 75 miles to the Red Bulls’ New Jersey practice facility, even after he started playing with the Red Bulls first team.

‘I was exhausted,’ Sullivan said.

And Adams himself was left to catch up with quite a bit of schoolwork outside of the classroom, as he somehow managed to focus on his studies while emerging as a Red Bulls mainstay.

‘Everyone was great, I don’t know that Tyler would’ve have gotten his diploma otherwise,’ his mom Melissa Russo said laughing.

‘Because they really put in just as much effort as Tyler did to make sure he got in all the stuff he needed for testing and all that kind of stuff.’

Adams' parents had to drive him to practice due to his age even after he started playing pro

Adams’ parents had to drive him to practice due to his age even after he started playing pro

Adams had a good group of friends, did his homework and frequented Smoothie King and Chipotle with his brothers.

But most kids don’t have ‘National Honor Society’ and ‘MLS starter’ on their resumes at the same time.  

‘I’m sure he didn’t feel like a true high school student,’ Paino, who also taught Adams, said. 

‘But I know that at least within our department… [we] tried to make it as much as a traditional setting for him as he could.’

Adams’ unorthodox high school experience, however, did come with some positives.

While he may have missed out on the chance to socialize during Ketcham football games, his growing soccer career took him around the globe as he traveled with the US U-17 national team.

‘He’s had it pretty good. And I remind him of that,’ Sullivan said.

Adams was named the USMNT's captain ahead of their first game vs. Wales

Adams was named the USMNT’s captain ahead of their first game vs. Wales 

‘He had times when he wasn’t in school when everyone else was in school, and he was in wherever he was. He was in Florida, sitting on a beach…’

When he did return to the quiet surroundings of Wappinger Falls, some of life’s more monotonous moments awaited him.

By his mom’s telling, that balance was key.

‘He still had real life. He still had business at home, he still had to keep his room clean,’ she said. 

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‘It’s not like he was living… on his own. He was still living at home, he still had rules here. So I think all of that combined definitely kept things in perspective for him.’

It wasn’t just Adams’ home life that kept his feet on the ground.

Though he’s now a favored son of Ketcham, there was no preferential treatment in its halls during his teenage years.

As his soccer career continued to progress, he was actually denied a place on the varsity basketball team – by his family friend (and former varsity coach) Paino no less.

With Adams spending time in Bradenton, Florida for the U-17 residency program at IMG Academy, Paino doubted whether he was worthy of a varsity spot because of his limited availability.

Adams starred on JV instead and Paino later apologized for the decision, with the humble teen downplaying the situation.

The prodigious talent was also kept in check by the Red Bulls.

Tyler’s parents wanted him to experience homecoming and prom, and that latter event came with a price to pay from his now two-time head coach.

Adams' relationship with Jesse Marsch dates back to his days with the New York Red Bulls

Adams’ relationship with Jesse Marsch dates back to his days with the New York Red Bulls

‘He had to ask Jesse Marsch to leave practice early so he could go to the prom,’ Sullivan said of his son’s current Leeds United boss.

‘It was hysterical. And Jesse made him ask in front of the whole team, and they were all laughing.’

If that incident may have left him red in the face, it’s representative of the humility he still carries today.

Adams takes time out of his hectic schedule to FaceTime suspended students (Sullivan runs the school’s in-school suspension system), offering them words of encouragement while they’re in trouble. It’s a way for him to give back to the place that aided his current trajectory in soccer. 

Family has remained massively important, too. Minutes after Leeds’ massive 2-1 win vs. Liverpool in October, Sullivan said, Adams was texting his younger brother Dylan about supposed plans for their parents to meet his girlfriend that night.

That sort of attentiveness, however, extends beyond blood ties as well.  

Paino recounted a story of his former college roommate – also a Ketcham alum – traveling with his sons to Columbus, Ohio to watch a USMNT World Cup qualifier, with a homemade Adams sign in tow.

They were merely looking for a wave from the midfielder, who’d been alerted beforehand of their attendance by Paino. He gave them handshakes and his captain’s armband instead.

‘I don’t know anyone that meets him that says, “Oh, he wouldn’t take a picture with me or he wouldn’t sign something or he didn’t have time for me,”‘ Russo said.

‘Those are the qualities that I wanna see. I honestly don’t care about his passing percentage on the field. I want him to go out there and have a great time and love what he’s doing. But those other things people say to me… those are the things that are important to me as a mom.’

Adams’ parents will be at Al Bayt Stadium Friday to watch their son play England following the USMNT’s 1-1 draw vs. Wales.

It’s an enormous game – just his second ever in the World Cup – and yet his parents didn’t seem all that nervous for a young man who’s just five years removed from his high school graduation.

Principal David Seipp and Sullivan pose in front of an Adams sign at Roy C. Ketcham HS

Principal David Seipp and Sullivan pose in front of an Adams sign at Roy C. Ketcham HS

‘You know it’s kind of crazy to say, but I’m kind of getting used to it, it’s weird,’ his dad said.

‘Pressure – I don’t even use that vocabulary for Tyler to be honest with you. I think he loves that, he wants that.’

It won’t be the first big game he’s played in.

There’s been a trip to Anfield, a Champions League semifinal (with RB Leipzig) and battles vs. Mexico for his country among other tests.

Adams, though is not too far removed from his teenage years at Ketcham, when his parents would wait in the Red Bulls parking lot to pick him up from practice.

As he readies for what should be a physical test vs. England, one of his mom’s lessons from back then seems apt for the present.

‘I’ve always said “speak your mind, stand up for yourself, don’t ever let anyone take advantage of you,'” his mom said.

‘That was my parenting style. Do the right thing, but don’t be walked all over.’


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