HANOVER, N.J. — Amro Tarek gets the irony. His last game for Orlando City SC was at Red Bull Arena in October. He endured a trying season with the Lions and watched his 2018 campaign end with the New York Red Bulls celebrating a third Supporters’ Shield title in six years.
Now, the Egyptian center back calls Red Bull Arena home and will likely get the start Saturday night against Orlando City SC.
“That’s part of soccer and I’m really excited to play against them,” the 26-year-old said after training Wednesday afternoon.
Tarek said he found out shortly after the season that he was going to be traded and welcomed the move, which was announced on Dec. 11.
“It’s a winning team, a very good organization, they have a long-term plan for everything,” he said. “I think it’s the right thing for any soccer player to know what’s the plan and what we’re doing. I was really happy to be surrounded with these kind of players, with this kind of mentality.”
It’s a mentality, he said, that was lacking in Orlando, caused in part by a midseason coaching change when James O’Connor replaced Jason Kreis, who was let go in June.
“It’s also part of soccer, but I think it’s not nice when you have a group, a new group with a coach who has his own vision and then the coach leaves and in comes another coach with a completely different vision for the players,” Tarek said. “I don’t think it’s a comfortable environment to work in. I think stability is very important to a player.”
Tarek said he was pleased to be reunited with CJ Brown, an assistant under Kreis in Orlando who joined the Red Bulls staff last July. Brown helped Tarek understand the intricacies of defending in a pressing system that requires central defenders to extinguish a lot of fires.
Tarek knows that playing time might not be as plentiful as it was in Orlando, where he started 19 of the 20 games he appeared in during the 2018 season. But he also knows center backs have thrived with the Red Bulls, from Matt Miazga to the reigning MLS Defender of the Year in Aaron Long and Tim Parker, players who have been called in to the USMNT regularly. In fact, Tarek will be filling the void left by Long, who is with the U.S. men’s national team for upcoming international friendlies against Ecuador and Chile.
“Since I knew I was going to be here, I was very happy because I wanted to be surrounded with these kind of players, to be surrounded with this kind of mentality,” Tarek said. “It’s a winning mentality, they push each other to bring the best out of you. I think this is not everywhere. I haven’t seen this everywhere where I was. That’s very good for any football player.”
While it’s taken Tarek some time to assimilate, Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said the 6-foot-2 defender has a lot of the physical qualities to be successful in the team’s style.
“He fits the bill in terms of the person that he is,” Armas said. “He’s versatile, he has courage as a player, he’s intelligent when he reads the game well, he’s fast, he’s athletic and as a center back, he’s aggressive. There’s so many things that we like about Amro. It’s awesome that he gets to play against his his old team.”
Tarek impressed Armas in preseason and in his first start — a 1-1 draw at Columbus on March 2. He said he could fill in for Long or Parker, but also be part of a three-back setup if needed.
“He’s a proud defender, which is a nice quality, kind of like Kemar Lawrence where he doesn’t want to be beat, not on my watch,” Armas said. “He values defending. Of course he’s good with the ball, but he really values putting out fires and he enjoys tackling. We’ve got to remind him sometimes to be smart with some of those, but he’s an interesting defender. We love what we’ve seen so far.”
Goalkeeper Luis Robles said he’s seen a hunger and a desire to not only learn, but also master the Red Bulls system from Tarek, who wants to be in the celebratory picture this year rather than watching from the opposing bench.
“We don’t expect him to have all of it yet,” Robles said. “But I think what’s going to be on display is a player that is ready, that is hungry, and is starting to become more familiar with the way that we want to play.”
Tarek joked the biggest transition for him has actually been the weather — training in New Jersey in February and March takes some getting used to for someone from Egypt who played in Orlando.
“Now it’s getting much better,” Tarek said. “And I feel much better.”