FOX Sports Insider
The World Cup doesn’t officially start until Sunday, but the United States men’s team has already set themselves apart by being the only team in the tournament to still appoint their captain.
At least publicly.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter is expected to announce tenacious midfielder Tyler Adams as his skipper at a press conference on Sunday afternoon Qatar time, according to a US football source, who asked not to be identified as Monday’s clash with Wales is fast approaching. (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app.)
Berhalter took an innovative – albeit completely distanced – approach by handing off responsibility for choosing the role to his 26-strong player group. One player, one vote. The highest score gets the honor.
Kind of strange, isn’t it? But given the peculiarities of this American team, the second youngest at the tournament, it makes perfect sense.
Sure, Adams is likely the player Berhalter would have picked had he been forced to hand over the armband when the squad was announced on November 9. The 23-year-old from Leeds United of the English Premier League will not be overwhelmed by the role and enjoys the kind of fighting action that so often proves crucial in World Cup openers.
But delaying the announcement avoids a player like Adams or Christian Pulisic or Weston McKennie having to shoulder an extra burden ahead of America’s first World Cup game in more than eight years.
In any case, a player rising above the rest in a unique position of leadership would not be an accurate reflection of how Berhalter’s men lived together.
“This team — we’re such a group and we have such good chemistry,” McKennie told reporters on Saturday. “Every single player on this team has a responsibility, every player on this team can hold each other accountable. There is no one person you think of when you have a question. Everyone can be a leader at a certain point and can be called upon on.
“None of us knowing who the captain is is okay with us. We’re not the kind of guys who say, ‘Oh, I want to be a captain.’ Whoever has it has it. The mission is still the same, the goal is still the same.”
To put it bluntly, not having a recognized captain 36 hours before the first game at a World Cup is highly irregular and unthinkable for any other national team. But sport is not one size fits all. Certainly not football. And Berhalter is not afraid to be different.
It may turn out to be a masterpiece. Sometimes the pressure of the captain can affect a player’s playing style. Pulisic has said in the past he doesn’t care if he has the job or not, and for a flair player like the Chelsea winger, another factor isn’t necessarily a good thing.
We’ll find out later, but it’s reasonable to imagine that being chosen by his peers would be an empowering experience for Adams.
For many teams, there is a clear and obvious choice and no need to deviate from it.
If you’re like Wales and you’ve got Gareth Bale, an international superstar who is both superior to his peers and older than virtually all of them, there’s only one way to go. If Bale wasn’t the Wales captain, it would be quite a snub. He’s the player everyone else gravitates towards, follows by example and goes to for advice or internal grievances, and he was a five-time Champions League winner during his nine years at Real Madrid.
England’s Harry Kane, who will be the Americans’ second opponent, is another no-brainer who has guaranteed his place in the team and has the qualities of a natural leader. Iranian Alireza Jahanbakhsh has played in Europe for almost a decade and was confident enough to berate the English media for bringing up Iran’s political troubles at a press conference this week.
But no member of the US squad has a clear and distinct advantage in experience. Deandre Yedlin is the only remaining player from the 2014 group that reached the round of 16 in Brazil. Pulisic is dubbed Captain America by the British media, but that’s a moniker more than anything else for convenience.
Adams is likely to do a good job, but the moment could be improved by being handed the captaincy just before matchday, rather than carrying the role like an anchor through the tournament’s preamble.
He is supported by a core leadership group that bears some similarities to the position captains employed on NFL teams. Senior executives include defenders Walker Zimmerman, Adams, Pulisic, and goalies Sean Johnson and Matt Turner.
“He has the heart of a lion,” defense attorney Aaron Long said of Adams. “I think he shows that everywhere he goes. He’s an important, important part of this team for what he brings on the field and what he brings off the field. He’s a great guy and a great player.”
Sounds like leader. Sounds like an enrichment. Sounds like a captain, however or whenever he was chosen.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletterright
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