“Tyler … is that your … brother?”
I get that one a lot.
If you saw me with my family, you’d think I was adopted. All of them are white, and I’m black. My biological dad, who isn’t in my life, is black. My brother Dylan is white, and he plays in the New York Red Bulls’ Academy. So when I go to support him at his games, and people see me, then they hear from someone around them that I’m brothers with the guy on the pitch, and they kind of give me a double-take, like, Is he… ? Nah.
Yeah, he’s my brother.
As far as how he became my brother, that’s a longer story. Some people might even call it a good one. And it’s an important one, because it’s why I’m here doing what I love for the Red Bulls.
My mom had me when she was only 22 years old and my dad wasn’t around. We lived in Poughkeepsie, New York, which is about 75 miles north of New York City, and while we weren’t poor, we didn’t have much. We lived below my uncle in a small two-bedroom apartment. That’s where I’d sit in front of our TV and watch Thierry Henry score goal after goal for Arsenal at 6 a.m. on FOX Soccer Report.
Playing professional soccer was my dream, but I also knew that my mom had dreams of her own. That’s why, when I was in second grade, she went after those dreams and went back to school. She had taken time away from her classes after I was born so she could focus on raising me.
Our life was a roller coaster, and we were never quite sure if things were going to stay on the tracks. But we always had each other. I looked up to my mom — I still do. During those early years I was her little shadow, always following her and observing how hard she worked. When she’d go to the library to study after working a full-time job, I was right there next to her. We’d sit there for close to six hours, until 11 at night when the library closed.
I always felt happiest when I was on a pitch. I also happened to have some talent. My mom recognized that, and when I got the opportunity to join the Red Bulls Academy, she did everything she could to make sure I had the chance to pursue it. We’d pile into her dark grey Toyota Corolla and make the 150-mile round trip to the practice facility in Whippany, New Jersey.
We had to eat our dinner in the car because our schedule was so tight. She’d make sure I did my homework on the drive down because by the time we drove back it was 10 or 11 at night, so it was too dark.
And for a few years, it was just the two of us, doing what we could to support each other’s dreams.
Then, in seventh grade, my entire life changed with one interaction. It didn’t happen on a pitch, though — it was in a classroom.
“You’re Tyler, right?” one of my classmates asked me.
His name was Darryl Sullivan, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the beginning of a lifelong connection we’d share.
“My dad has mentioned you before. He said you’re a good soccer player. I’m going to try out for the soccer team in middle school too,” he said.
Not long after Darryl and I started playing on the team together he came up to me one day and was like, “I think our parents are talking.”
We were at a tournament that weekend and he was right. Our parents were talking. They spent almost the entire day next to each other, talking, having coffee. A week later his dad invited my mom and me over to their house for dinner. It was there that Darryl introduced me to his brothers, who are now our brothers.
I look back now and I think that’s the moment, eating dinner at their house, that everything changed. It wasn’t just my mom and me against the world anymore. Now we were part of a family.
I didn’t know until I met them, but my new extended family was even more fanatical about the game than I was. My grandfather on my stepdad’s side of the family was from Scotland and came to the U.S with his girlfriend in 1961. He was 17 years old when they arrived in New York. They came for a new life — a better life.
They didn’t bring much with them, but they did have their soccer fandom. The whole Scottish side of our family is diehard Rangers fans. I can’t even wear a green shirt around them because that’s Celtic’s colors — their rivals (rivals is an understatement). I made that mistake once. I was told that if I wanted to eat with the rest of the family I had to change. I thought it was a joke. It was not a joke. I mean, my uncle Alan even has a dog named Ranger, and if you say the word Celtic to the dog, it growls. Bruh.
But I was grateful to be exposed to that level of obsession with the game. Because I would eventually find out that if you want to make it, that’s what it takes. And that’s why my dad arriving in my life when he did was perfect. We’re both soccer-obsessed.
When I was 15 years old and had agents wanting to talk to me, having his wisdom and knowledge was so helpful. I think, and I remember it clearly actually, when I was that young and there were these agents around, I started getting big-eyed. Like, I’m going to make it … I’mma be in FIFA!
But my dad, he had my back. He was able to talk to me in a way that didn’t dent my confidence … but, like, he just let me know how much further I had to go — how hard I had to work. And even though, sometimes, I felt like I didn’t need a dad … he was there for me in whatever way I needed him.
He was a friend. A buddy to kick the ball with. And he was a dad. He was my dad.
There’s really not much more I could have asked for.
Between him and my mom, I had every opportunity I needed to become the man I am today. And the older I get, I can see how difficult their sacrifice was — and how there were no guarantees that I’d make it as anything, let alone a professional soccer player.
There was no question that I was grateful to have this new family structure, but man, our house was hectic. Going from an only child to having brothers resulted in me participating in a lot of really, really stupid activities. And looking back, they’re honestly some of my fondest memories now.
Whether it was me kicking a ball around the house and breaking a lamp (I always blamed the youngest, Donovan, even if it wasn’t him), or my mom yelling at the top of her lungs for us to chill out while we had these heated 2 v 2 FIFA sessions, things were always lively.
Sometimes, though, things got a bit more physical. Around Christmas time one year, we decided to play tackle football in the snow. I went to tackle my brother Darryl and broke his leg. I still remind him about that to this day because it’s something we all laugh about now.
At one point we were the same height. Now he’s six feet two and 250 lbs. He says he would destroy me if we replayed the game now, but I think I could still take him.
I remember my youth coaches at the New York Red Bulls giving us all a big talk about turning professional. They didn’t sugarcoat it for us.
“It’s important that you know that only about one or two of you will make it to the senior professional ranks,” they said.
I guess I’m going to be that one then, I thought to myself.
I always thought it was something I would need to do on my own, but what I realized with time is that my journey to becoming a professional was actually made possible by the people surrounding me.
My brother Donnie was the first person I told when I learned I’d be making my debut for the New York Red Bulls back in July 2015.
The first team had a U.S. Open Cup game the day before a scheduled exhibition game against Chelsea, who were the reigning Premier League champions at the time. The first team players couldn’t play twice in 24 hours, and so they had to sit the second game out.
I hadn’t even thought about starting against Chelsea, I was just excited to be in the squad. I remember leaving training that day, and that’s when our coach, Jesse Marsch, called me at home.
“I just wanted to see how comfortable you are, because you’re going to be starting the Chelsea match tomorrow,” he said.
“I’ll be ready.” I hung up the phone and sprinted to Donnie’s room.
Chelsea is his favorite team.
“Hey Donnie, I’m starting against Chelsea tomorrow.”
“Oh, man … you’re going to lose 6–0. Like for sure.”
He was right, but bro, c’mon. There was a good chance we would get beat 6–0, but I was still going to play against Chelsea.
Before the game, my family and I went out for a nice meal at an Italian restaurant before we headed to Red Bull Arena. It was kinda like the meals we’d eat before my parents would drive me to a youth game. It just felt right … you know? Like, before this game, against Chelsea, I was with the people who made any of it possible.
When we pulled up to the arena and into the players parking lot, I remember the feeling I had when I saw that the Chelsea bus was already there. And their team was getting out.
There was a good chance we would get beat 6-0, but I was still going to play against Chelsea.
Eden Hazard. Cesc Fabregas. Thibaut Courtois.
They’re like a few feet from us, walking in.
My brother’s jaw dropped.
I knew he was buggin’ out — he had them on his ultimate team.
And that was the moment it all hit me that I wasn’t a fan anymore. These weren’t just my heroes, they were my competition. Now I was a professional soccer player.
Just don’t get humiliated. That’s what I kept telling myself.
Not long after the match started, they scored.
That’s when Donnie’s voice started ringing in my head again. Oh no, please. I can’t lose 6–0 on my debut, I don’t care who we’re playing.
I started to get my first few touches on the ball and began connecting passes. I was building a rhythm. I thought I was playing well, but it was hard to be certain. I didn’t have anything to compare it with because this was my first professional game. Early in the second half one of my teammates tied the game.
Our team started to improve. Then, it happened: my first goal for the New York Red Bulls.
It came from a cross wide right. I don’t even know why I was in the box. I think that was against our tactics. I was wide open and I managed to get a head on the ball.
It was kind of like being submerged under water, and then you just surface. The whole stadium went completely quiet and then it erupted. I didn’t even know how to celebrate. I just made something up on the spot. I still do that same celebration to this day.
I looked over to my mom and I could already tell she was crying. She was a college graduate, and now I was a professional soccer player.
We’d done it.
Man, we’d done it. All of us. My mom. My dad. My brothers. They scored that goal with me — believe that.
Man, we’d done it. All of us. My mom. My dad. My brothers. They scored that goal with me — believe that.
To this day, whenever I see a single parent at the Red Bulls training facility, it makes me pause. I feel this instant connection. I understand the sacrifices they’re making to be there. And I know how much love is in their hearts.
I also look back on those times and see the impact that this club has had on me: The Red Bulls are part of my life and part of my family’s life. That’s why the club means so much to me. It’s my other family. There are a lot of clubs around the world that wouldn’t have had the patience that they did. There are a lot of special people in the Red Bulls family.
And I know they’ll take care of my brother Dylan on his Red Bull journey.
The club has given me so much. And now, for real, I feel like I have a chance to return the favor. Jesse Marsch, and now Chris Armas — and the countless other people who have built this team — have put us in a place to accomplish our ultimate goal: Win an MLS Cup. Our supporters deserve that.
And my family deserves that. I wrote this for them. For my dad. For my mom. For all of them. I wouldn’t be me without them, I owe them everything, and I hope these words helped show you where I’ve come from — and who got me here.
Whatever happens these next few weeks, it won’t change how I feel about this place, this team and my appreciation for the love you’ve all shown me and my family.
Thank you, and let’s go get the damn thing.