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Newcomers impress New York Red Bulls coach Chris Armas in preseason camp

Colorado Rapids forward Yannick Boli (9) slides for the ball against Orlando City SC defender Amro Tarek (3) in the second half at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

There are a bevy of fresh faces in New York Red Bulls preseason camp. There’s players who have MLS experience like defender Amro Tarek, who spent the 2018 season with Orlando City SC, and pacy Marcus Epps, who competed for the Philadelphia Union for the last two years.

There’s also recently selected players from last month’s MLS SuperDraft — the Red Bulls picked up seven new players in the four rounds — as well as the latest Homegrown signee in Omir Fernandez.

Consider coach Chris Armas impressed with what he’s seen from the newcomers in the club’s first phase of preseason in Bradenton, Fla.

“Obviously there’s room to go for these guys — the speed of play — but they’ve shown some real possibilities,” Armas said in a conference call with reporters Friday.

Fernandez, a 19-year-old Bronx, New York native, became the 21st Homegrown signing in club history and the 23rd academy product to sign with the first team.

The attacking midfielder spent the last two years at Wake Forest University and earned his first U.S. U-20 call-up this winter. He had team highs in goals (12) and assists (6) for the Demon Deacons this season, starting 20 of the club’s 21 games.

“Omir Fernandez, he’s got something,” Armas said. “He’s clever and shifty and knows the Red Bulls philosophy. He’s an elegant player with speed and he’s dynamic and has a really good soccer brain. Up the field, he’s interesting.”

The Red Bulls selected four defenders in the first two rounds of the SuperDraft — centerback Roy Boateng from UC-Davis at No. 16 overall, left back/winger Janos Loebe at No. 22 out of Fordham University, centerback Sean Nealis from Hofstra University at No. 25 and right back Rece Buckmaster out of Indiana University

Armas assessed each player’s performance early in their professional careers.

On Boateng: “He’s a centerback who is gifted physically, but he’s open in terms of being humble and open to learning, which is great to see.”

On Loebe: “He’s quick, he’s lefty, he can play left back, he can play left midfield. He’s had a good camp.”

On Nealis: “He’s performed really well. …. Sean Nealis on the back line next to Tim Parker has been excellent.”

On Buckmaster: “He’s a guy who understands the position really well, he gets up and down, he’s a great 1-v-1 defender again with such a positive outlook and mentality that fits.”

With the departure of central defenders Aurelien Collin, who was subsequently signed by the Union, Hassan Ndam, who was picked up by FC Cincinnati in the Expansion Draft and Fidel Escobar, whose loan option wasn’t picked up, the Red Bulls were in need of MLS-experienced defenders. They found one in the versatile Amro Tarek in a December trade.

“Amro Tarek, who gives us cover at centerback and left back, is a presence,” Armas said. “He’s intelligent and another guy we’re excited about who also has some MLS experience.”

Epps, who had three goals and three assists in 32 appearances over the course of two years with the Union, was picked up in the Waiver Draft and signed last week.

“In the game the other day, he showed some real promise running by defenders like they were cones,” Armas said. “He’s fast, he understands the way we press. He’s another interesting guy with a great attitude.”

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