There is only one U.S. men's national team player remaining in the UEFA Champions League following the elimination of Christian Pulisic's Chelsea, and it's RB Leipzig's Tyler Adams. The former New York Red Bulls star is preparing for what could be the biggest game of his life on Thursday when in the Champions League quarterfinals in Lisbon, Portugal (on CBS All Access).
Adams, 21, joined RB Leipzig in 2019 and hopes to play a part of Thursday's clash against a Spanish side that love to press and are difficult to break down. He's made 15 appearances for RB Leipzig this season, and while the team hasn't lost a game he's played in since the restart in June, they've won just one out of the six matches he's started.
Ahead of the action, there have been some good things and not-so-good things happen for the Bundesliga's third-place team, but Adams said his team is ready no matter what. While the club is having to cope with the loss of star striker Timo Werner (34 totals goals), Adams is confident in what his team can accomplish in a format he thinks favors them. Typically, the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds see each team play two games against their opponent, home and away. But due to the pandemic, the quarters and semis are now one-off, single-elimination matches. It's win or go home from here on out. If you ask Adams, the tweaked format favors a hungry team like his, and it makes perfect sense. Just look at Lyon taking on Manchester City in the quarters. The English side are obviously favored, but it's more likely that Lyon can get a positive result in a one-off as opposed to two-legged ties.
Entering this game, RB Leipzig won just one of their last four matches of the season, but now with a good break of over a month, they are hungry to prove their worth. Adams said the way the team gave away late goals at the end and lost focus a bit has resulted in them resharpening their focus and that confidence is through the roof, especially in an open tournament with his team on what is the easier side of the bracket. One of RB Leipzig, Atletico Madrid, PSG or Atalanta will make the final.
"You have to give everything in the 90 minutes," Adams said to CBS Sports.
"These are teams that, when they have a bad day, maybe you get away with a goal but it is not often a team like Man City and Real Madrid have two bad games in a row. For us to be a young team with a fearless mentality, it is all or nothing.
"It's refreshing. Now we are ready to hit Champions League full swing. It's a new experience for us all. I'd say we are really prepared now."
While the tournament in Lisbon is something different than what we have previously seen in the Champions League, he expects the team to find comfort there, but Atleti too. Both teams finished their league seasons playing in empty stadiums, and the key there is to find motivation.
"It is never ideal when you don't have the atmosphere you are used to playing in," Adams said.
"We figured it out quite quickly. You have to motivate yourself in a different way. In the 60th minute where you are relying on the atmosphere to carry you the rest o the way ... we struggled with that in the beginning."
RB Leipzig advanced to this stage by beating Tottenham in the round of 16.
What Atletico represents
Atleti are a team looking to make the final for a third time under coach Diego Simeone, and for many they are the favorites to make the final on that side of the bracket. A team that sells players yet never regresses, the Spanish capital club has a fan base dreaming of European glory. No club without a Champions League title has lost more finals than Atleti's three.
Adams knows what they are made of, and he knows it won't be an easy task.
"They are a team with a ton of quality. Watching them on TV, seeing what they're capable of, how Simeone has transformed what it is like to be an an Atletico Madrid player, the passion and grit, it's going to be a challenge for us," Adams said
While Atleti know how they want to play, Leipzig do as well. That free-flowing style where speed is key is what Adams hopes will make the difference. Atleti likes to get its fullbacks forward, so if Leipzig can transition to attack quickly, they'll have a shot to score on the counter.
"We need to come in and play our style of football," Adams said.
Don't underestimate the young and hungry
RB Leipzig are a young team with an average age under 23, but they're a club that has become known for giving young players a lot of minutes and fostering their rapid development. While the club is just 11 years old, it's already a team know around the world for buying top young talent and helping them evolve into superstars. Defenders Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate are next in line.
But Adams knows there are some discounting the team because they lost Werner, but he says they just don't know much about them.
"I think there is a lot of people like that. One thing I would say, not many people know the philosophy of our club. What the club is trying to do is continue to nurture, find the next Timo Werner, the next Naby Keita," he said
"We are the youngest team in the Bundesliga. Look at what we are capable of ... When you lose a player like Timo Werner, it leaves a big hole. It's a huge responsibility for young players Our whole lineup is made up of young players. It starts in training. You have to show what you are made of."
And that's what Adams and Leipzig hope to do. A win on Thursday would bring them even closer to their ultimate goal.
"You win this game, and you are moving on. You win another, and you are in a final," Adams said.
"It's all or nothing, and we are fearless."