Tyler Adams doesn’t score often. But when he does, it’s usually significant.
Before Thursday, the 21-year-old midfielder had scored just seven times since turning pro at 16 with New York Red Bulls II. But one of those was an equalizer for the Red Bulls' senior side in a Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal. Two others came in a 3-3 draw against rival D.C. United. And then there was the game-winner in the U.S. national team’s 1-0 friendly win over Mexico in September 2018.
But none of them were as big as Thursday’s goal in Lisbon, Portugal. In fact, a pretty airtight case could be made that no goal ever scored by a U.S. international in club competition was as seismic as Adams’s deflected strike in the 88th minute of RB Leipzig’s 2-1 defeat of Atlético Madrid. The victory lifted RBL, which was founded just 11 years ago, into the UEFA Champions League semifinals for the first time. And it lifted Adams into the small pantheon of American men who’ve made their mark on the scoresheet at the club game’s highest level.
No U.S. player had ever scored in the Champions League quarterfinal or later. And Adams could become just the second to play in the semis when RB Leipzig meets Paris Saint-Germain at Benfica’s Estádio da Luz on Aug. 18. Recently retired winger DaMarcus Beasley appeared for PSV Eindhoven in the 2005 final four against AC Milan, losing on away goals. (Jovan Kirovski also played for Borussia Dortmund in the 1997 Intercontinental Cup/Club World Cup final).
“We’re really really excited. We know that Paris is obviously a great team,” Adams said following Thursday’s triumph. “Now it’s about recovering in the right way, getting our mentality right and preparing a game plan. But we’re confident in our abilities, like you saw today, so we’re going to bring what we’re capable of."
Leipzig was the better team through much of Thursday’s quarterfinal, but Atleti has vast experience at this stage of European competition and leveled the score at 1-1 with a João Félix penalty in the 71st minute. Adams entered the match as a substitute a minute later. It marked just his second Champions League appearance.
“It’s so exciting for me, I think, to come in and play in a Champions League game,” he said. “You know for the first six months, when we started the Champions League campaign, I was injured. So it’s a good feeling to get out there, obviously fully fit, and show what I’m capable of.”
Adams was a regular for Leipzig down the stretch of the restarted Bundesliga season as the club finished third, thus qualifying for the 2020-21 Champions League. Then came a three-week break, and finally Adams’s chance to contribute in this season’s competition.
Leipzig had eased past Tottenham Hotspur in the home-and-away round of 16, but Thursday’s quarterfinal would be just one game. And as extra time approached, the quarterfinal turned. RBL’s Marcel Sabitzer hit a stunning, curling, one-time pass from the center circle that split four Atleti defenders and freed left back Angeliño in the left channel. Instead of crossing it toward the two Leipzig players running into the penalty area, the Spaniard smartly cut it back into an open space near the penalty arc. Adams was there and alone. He took a touch, then ripped a shot that was headed toward the left post when it deflected off defender Stefan Savic. Atleti goalkeeper Jan Oblak had no chance.
“It's a deflection, but it counts the same as a regular one so i’ll take it,” Adams said. “For the first 70 minutes, it was a close game. So when I came on, obviously I wanted to bring energy and help the team in any way possible. Getting your first goal [for Leipzig] is a little bit unexpected for me. I’m not a typical goal scorer, but I’m happy I could help the team.”
Help the team, and make history. Adams’s goal may be the biggest by an American abroad, but it’s not the only important one. Here are a few of the more notable entries on that limited list:
John Harkes (Sheffield Wednesday vs. Derby County, 1990)
An American scored England’s goal of the season, and it came off the foot of one of U.S. soccer’s true European pioneers. That’s how you make an impression. Harkes also scored for Wednesday in a losing effort in the 1993 Football League Cup final.
DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven vs. Rosenborg, 2004)
There may not have been a PSV run to the Champions League semis if not for Beasley's goal in the fourth game of the group stage against Rosenborg. His 10th-minute finish, which required him to settle a long pass then round the Rosenborg goalkeeper, lifted PSV to a 1-0 win and the three points it needed to finish second–by a point–in its group (1:38 in the clip above).
Jay DeMerit (Watford vs. Leeds United, 2006)
DeMerit’s incredible rags to riches story was punctuated in the 25th minute of the Football League Championship promotion final against Leeds, as he headed home the opening (and winning) goal from close range. Watford won, 3-0, and DeMerit was bound for the Premier League.
Maurice Edu (Rangers vs. Celtic, 2010)
The midfielder settled a critical Old Firm matchup in the final minute of stoppage time as he latched onto a rebound and lifted Rangers to a critical 1-0 win. There was pandemonium at Ibrox, and Rangers was on its way to a second straight league title.
Clint Dempsey (Fulham vs. Juventus, 2010)
Fulham may have been a Premier League team from London, but it was a minnow compared to mighty Juventus. The disparity was evident for much of their 2009-10 UEFA Europa League round-of-16 series, which Juve led, 4-1 on aggregate, after two minutes of the second leg at Craven Cottage. Then Bobby Zamora scored for Fulham and Zoltán Gera scored twice, setting the stage for Dempsey to score the most scintillating Yanks abroad goal, even if it’s no longer the most important. His audacious chip toward the far post set Fulham on a path toward the final and will always be a massive part of Deuce’s legend.
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund vs. Benfica, 2017)
Dortmund wound up winning the Champions League round-of-16 series against Benfica, 4-1, on aggregate, but it was Pulisic’s deft chip in the 59th minute of the second leg that broke a deadlock. The goal did more than send BVB on its way—it confirmed the 18-year-old Pulisic as a rising star.
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea vs. Arsenal, 2020)
Pulisic became the first American man to score in the FA Cup final, one of soccer’s grandest stages, on Aug. 1. Chelsea would end up losing, but the moment when Pulisic gave the Blues an early lead with a slick dribble and finish certainly stands out among goals scored by U.S. players abroad.