By Peter Schwartz
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Growing up in Wappingers Falls, New York, Tyler Adams was one of a number of talented youth soccer players throughout the tri-state area. One of his favorite players was Arsenal star Thierry Henry, who joined the New York Red Bulls in 2010. The arrival of Henry quickly turned Adams into a big Red Bulls fan.
Adams had the opportunity to see Henry in person many times, but at the age of 10, he joined the Red Bulls Regional Development School program and that provided him with an up-close look at the French legend.
"I was at every single game that I could possibly be at," said Adams. "I was a ball boy for some of those games, which was a perk of playing for the academy."
Two years after joining the Red Bulls academy, he joined the U-13 team and eventually progressed through the U-14 and U-16 clubs. That led to his first taste of international competition, as he was called up to the U.S. Youth National Team.
Adams worked his way through the U-14, U-15 and U-16 teams and was then invited to the U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Florida. From there, he participated in all major tournaments, including last year's CONCACAF U-17 Championship and FIFA's U-17 World Cup, where he played in all three games and started two of them.
Last March, he became the first player to graduate from the Red Bulls academy and sign a professional contract when he joined New York Red Bulls II and then signed a Homegrown Player contract with the Red Bulls in November 2015. On July 27, the day before the MLS All-Star Game, Adams will represent the Red Bulls in the 2016 Chipotle MLS Homegrown Game in San Jose, California.
"I'm very excited for it," said the Red Bulls midfielder. "It's a great program that MLS has provided. Being a part of the academy for many years, I'm really excited to represent the Red Bulls."
The annual game spotlights some of the best young talent in Major League Soccer and is a showcase for the league's Homegrown Player program. The league's academies have now produced over 150 homegrown players who have signed professional contracts with MLS clubs.
This year, the MLS Homegrown Team, coached by American soccer icon Landon Donovan, will face the Mexican under-20 team. Adams said he can't wait to play for the USA's former national team star.
"What an honor that is," said honor. "He's really done it all. He's played in many World Cups. Being able to be coached by him, I'm going to take it all in as much as I can and just enjoy the experience."
For someone who is just 17 years old and set to graduate high school next year, Adams has accomplished quite a bit as a soccer player. In fact, his coming-out party, at least for local fans, came last summer when he was just 16 years old and playing for NYRB II.
Because of a congested schedule, the Red Bulls needed a little help for their July 22, 2015, International Challenge Cup match with English Premier League club Chelsea. In fact, 15 Red Bulls and NYRB II players made their first-team debuts in that game, including Adams, who scored a goal off a header in the second half.
"Just having the opportunity to step on the field with some of those Chelsea players was an amazing opportunity, let alone scoring a goal against them, which was a privilege," said Adams.
Adams celebrated his goal in front of a near-sellout crowd of 24,076 at Red Bull Arena. He quickly became the poster boy for the Red Bulls academy and what a program like it can do for a player and an organization.
"It was a really good experience," Adams said of his time with the academy. "We have top-notch training facilities and top-notch coaches. It's really a competitive environment. That's what I needed, and I think that's what helped me turn into the player that I am so far."
This season, Adams is once again playing for NYRB II and has helped the club to an 11-1-5 record and 38 points, putting it in second place in the Eastern Conference of the USL. Earlier this season, Adams made his regular-season debut with the Red Bulls' first team, getting called up to start on April 13 against the San Jose Earthquakes.
Adams played the first half in San Jose and is hoping that leads to another chance at some point this season.
"It's really all about being patient at this point," said Adams. "I just have to wait for my opportunity. I find myself playing well in the USL games, which is better than sitting on the bench anywhere else. I definitely want to find myself fighting to be on the A team and ultimately end up starting some games."
For now, Adams is getting plenty of valuable experience playing for NYRB II, which also plays its home games at Red Bull Arena. Just seven years ago, Adams was a fan going to games before joining the Red Bulls academy. Today, he's progressed through the program and is part of the organization.
Not bad for a former Red Bulls ball boy.
"Growing up, that was the only team around, so that was always the team that I said, 'Wow, one day maybe I could be playing in Red Bull Arena,'" said Adams.
Dreams do come true. Adams is a perfect example of that, as hard work and a great program have led to a perfect storm.
Follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @tyler_adams14, @NewYorkRedBulls, and @NYRBII
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