HANOVER, N.J. — As he proved last week after training, there’s nothing Omir Fernandez can’t handle in his first season with the New York Red Bulls, not even an impromptu grilling from Chris Armas during a media scrum.
Before answering questions from the assembled media, the rookie forward had to deal with his coach-turned-reporter.
“The header today in training in the 5-v-2, you head directly to the other team and you don’t go to the middle,” Armas said. “How can a guy who scores that header last week either make that header today or go in the middle when you mess up?”
Just like he has on the field, whether it’s at Santos Laguna in the Concacaf Champions League, on the road against FC Cincinnati or at home vs. Real Salt Lake, the 20-year-old Homegrown signing had all the answers.
“No, I was walking in to go into the middle, but the guy knew the ball that he gave me was kind of like a killer ball so he decided to go in for me,” Fernandez replied. “But I was going to go in. I know I should have done better.”
Just as coolly as he dealt with his coach’s ribbing, Fernandez has made a seamless transition to Major League Soccer after three solid seasons at Wake Forest University.
“He came in as a Homegrown talent and in preseason he impressed right away. His tenacity to go forward to take a shot and we thought that that’s going to prove well for him, the way that we play,” Red Bulls’ goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “And yet in Champions League he continues to validate that with some of those performances and you see the way he’s progressing and you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself, but his progressions have been great.”
Fernandez impressed initially in the preseason, enough to earn a spot on the first team. He was given more responsibility, more chances to succeed on a team that values its young talent. And Fernandez hasn’t disappointed.
“I think it’s the culture that they have here,” Fernandez said. “I think they really value their young guys, they’re really helping me out.”
Fernandez credits his teammates with welcoming him, especially in preseason.
“I was young coming in, I wasn’t expecting to have as much hospitality as I have, a lot of big guys like Danny [Royer], Brad [Wright-Phillips], Derrick [Etienne], all those guys bringing me and helping me out really made me comfortable here,” Fernandez said. “And the coaching staff having confidence in me as well just allowed me to be free and play.”
After a dream first professional goal in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals in Mexico, Fernandez has come off the bench to score in back-to-back games, that stunning header Armas referenced in a 2-0 win at FC Cincinnati and a first-time finish to close out a 4-0 victory over Real Salt Lake last Saturday at Red Bull Arena.
“It’s another one of these guys that (have) come in and been diligent in learning the tactics, buying into the philosophy,” Robles said. “Of course there’s going to be ups and downs, and yet he continues to stay cerebral in his approach, which is great.”