Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie often get grouped together in the same sentence when talking about the next generation of young American central midfielders. McKennie, who is making a big impact at Schalke, and Adams, who is the heart and soul of the New York Red Bulls, both have important roles with their clubs. However, to carelessly categorize them in the same space, even subconsciously, is doing both players a disservice. Adams and McKennie both provide something unique to their clubs teams and will have distinctly unique positive impacts on the USMNT once they become regulars. Let’s take a look at some of the most fundamental differences between these two future United States Men’s National Team stars.
Even at the most basic level, size, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie differ. Adams is a slight 5’9” when compared to McKennie’s solid 6’1” frame. Their differing sizes logically mandate that they each have a different role on the field. McKennie is more adept at winning aerial duels and outmuscling opponents, while Adams is better at showing quickly to the ball and closing down his man. Still, in soccer, size has never had any sort of impact on the player quality, so this is no reason to think that McKennie is more likely to become a better player than Adams or vice versa.
There is no doubt about it, Weston McKennie is an out-and-out central midfielder. His passing ability, certainly top five in the USMNT player pool, touch, and positional awareness all point to CM being McKennie’s best position. Adams, on the other hand, has not yet proven that he has the same set of skills necessary to be a high-quality central midfielder. Often rotated between right wingback and central midfield, he lacks the deft touch and extra creative quality necessary to be a true, full-time CM. Not to worry; Tyler Adams is very, very young and certainly capable of improving these areas in the future.
As mentioned briefly above, McKennie is one of the most talented passers in the United States Men’s National Team setup. He can facilitate from in front of the defense, play teammates in on goal with creative through balls, and keep possession with timely passing in the midfield. While not on par with his countryman, Adams’ passing skill set is still very good, and is improving with each performance. He can combine fairly well, spot runs, cross the ball in, and switch fields with solid accuracy.
While both players have outstanding defensive work rates, Tyler Adams’ speed and determination is unmatched (by anybody not named Paul Arriola) in the USMNT pool. When played at right wing-back, Adams constantly sprints back to provide a boost in defense. When played as a CM, the 19-year-old is almost always tasked with high-pressing the opposition, forcing turnovers. McKennie, a tank engine in his own right, simply does not posses the same energy that Adams does. Plus, Dominic Tedesco does not instruct his players to high press nearly as much as Jesse Marsch, so it is not as important for Weston McKennie to show off his work rate as it is for Adams.
Simply put, Adams prefers to attack from the right side of the field, while McKennie’s preference is to work and facilitate through the center. With his great speed and improving crossing ability, Adams is probably more effective out on the right than he is centrally (at least for now). The opposite is true for McKennie, who is much more comfortable combining and making smart attacking runs from a central position.