Ever since he was a little boy growing up in Harrison, Omar Sowe always dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player.
“I think it’s every little boy’s dream of playing professional soccer,” Sowe said.
And when the New York Red Bulls decided to build their new $200 million home in Harrison, Sowe’s dreams became more focused.
“Once Red Bull Arena came here, I always wanted to play for the New York Red Bulls,” Sowe said. “I used to go to games there with my father. The first pro game I ever saw was there with my Dad.”
Well, the next time Sowe enters Red Bull Arena, he most certainly won’t have to pay.
In fact, the occupants of the building will be paying him.
Last Friday, the New York Red Bulls II, the franchise’s reserve team that plays in the United Soccer League, signed Sowe to a multi-year contract.
Sowe becomes the first professional soccer player from soccer-dominant Harrison in over 40 years. David D’Errico was signed out of Hartwick College by the Seattle Sounders of the old North American Soccer League in 1974.
Sowe is the first pro product to be signed directly out of high school and he’s the first pro player in the Mike Rusek coaching era that began 20 years ago.
Sowe had been playing for the Red Bull Academy 18-and-under program this year.
“I guess I had been on their radar for a while,” Sowe said. “They said that they were watching me play throughout high school.”
Sowe scored 89 goals and collected 77 assists during his career at Harrison High School, setting new single-season scoring records in the storied program. Sowe earned All-Hudson County honors three times, earned All-Group II honors twice and was the Section 2 Player of the Year last fall.
After his high school career was completed last October, Sowe said that he was invited to attend some training sessions with the Red Bulls.
“I went to one training session in December,” Sowe said. “And the next day, I started with the Academy.”
Sowe remained with the RBA through the winter months into March.
“Then they called me to train with the U-23 (23-and-under Red Bulls II) team and that’s how it all started.”
Red Bulls II head coach John Wolyniec, the former Red Bulls star, was pleased to have Sowe under contract.
“It is exciting to have a young player like Omar with us,” Wolyniec said. “He spent some time with our academy so, it is always important to find ways to give opportunities to those guys. He has a lot of tools to have success in our system, so we are excited to do everything we can to help him get to the highest level possible.”
Rusek said that Sowe’s ascent to the professional ranks was “meteoric.”
“Three months ago, I never would have thought this was possible,” Rusek said. “The rise has been incredible. I kept reminding Omar to consider some of the colleges that were recruiting him. But he kept insisting that things with the Red Bulls were going really well. So we kept our fingers crossed for him.”
Sowe said that he was practicing and training with the Red Bulls all summer, then the team decided last week to offer him the contract.
“It really came from out of the blue,” Sowe said. “I had been practicing with both teams all summer, so this is really nothing new. They said that their plans all along were to sign me. They liked the way I was growing and playing. I guess they figured that I’m the kind of player who can help the team with my scoring ability.”
Rusek still can’t fully fathom the idea that his star player is a professional.
“It’s been a real interesting journey for Omar,” Rusek said. “But it’s very rewarding for everyone. My brother John (Rusek’s assistant with the Blue Tide) said that there hasn’t been a true high school soccer player signed by the Red Bulls.”
Rusek truly believed that he would have had a pro player before Sowe, considering the talent level of many of the Blue Tide players over the years.
“We provided a good soccer environment,” Rusek said. “I thought that there would have been more to move on to the college and pro ranks. We were a little beat down by the system. I guess it just happened that way.”
Rusek has enjoyed a close personal relationship with Sowe since the days that Sowe’s older brother Modou was an All-State defender for the Blue Tide.
“Omar was a ball boy for us,” Rusek said. “Mike Dolaghan (the Harrison Recreation director) used to get Omar from school and bring him to our games. So we’ve been together for a long time.”
Rusek was not shocked by his star player becoming a pro.
“Talent-wise, I’m not surprised,” Rusek said. “I thought he had the talent to be a professional. Because of the history we’ve had, I just didn’t know what to think. That was the only reason why we had doubts. So we didn’t know in this crazy system.”
Sowe gives a lot of credit to his upbringing.
“When you come from Harrison, it’s all about soccer,” Sowe said. “I love being from Harrison. When you’re around good people all the time, it makes things like this easy. The community around me was a big part of who I am today. I owe so much to Harrison. It’s a great hometown. When I make it, I feel like we all made it. I’ve learned so much from the great people of Harrison. From my standpoint, all of Harrison has made it. The town is really special.”
Sowe was amazed to learn that he was the first pro player from Harrison in almost five decades.
“That was one of the things that made me more excited,” Sowe said. “It just goes to show how many great players who came from my hometown and never got the chance. I got the chance through hard work and dedication.”
Sowe said that he was certain that his brother would have received the chance to be a pro player.
“Modou’s not done yet,” Sowe said. “He’s still playing. He’s still young enough (23).”
And there’s a third Sowe, younger brother Mustapha, who will be a junior on the Blue Tide this season.
“Watch out for him,” Sowe said. “He’s going to be very good.”
But for now, the first pro soccer player in soccer friendly Harrison in almost a half century will enjoy his moment.
“I’m still soaking it all in,” Sowe said. “It’s a good start for me. I didn’t do it for the money. I’m doing it for the chance. It’s a dream come true. There are no other words to describe it. I don’t even know how to describe the feeling I’m having.”
When Sowe plays his first game in Red Bull Arena as a pro, he’ll know. For sure, he will know.
Harrison’s Omar Sowe holds up his New York Red Bulls II jersey after signing a multi-year contract with the club last Friday. Photo courtesy of New York Red Bulls communications
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”