Harrison’s Sowe survives crazy year with Red Bulls II

It was supposed to be a glorious second season of professional soccer for Omar Sowe, but the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic had other intentions.

Sowe, the former Harrison High School All-State performer and statewide Player of the Year as a senior two years ago for the Blue Tide, signed a contract in 2019 to play for the New York Red Bulls II team in the United Soccer League. He managed to play in five games that season for red Bulls II still as a teenager.

So the future looked bright for Sowe when the Red Bulls II season began in March.

Then, the coronavirus hit with full force, shutting everything down.

“In the beginning, I was more worried about what was happening in the world,” said Sowe, who lived with five of his teammates in an East Hanover location near the Red Bulls’ training facility. “It was pretty hectic. Not even soccer-wise, but just living.”

The players received virtual workouts from the Red Bulls II coaching staff, headed by former Red Bulls captain and standout forward John Wolyniec. Sowe had an interesting way to stay fit.

“I did a lot of yoga,” Sowe said. “Because we sit around all day, our minds and bodies tend to get a little tight. Sitting around doesn’t help, so I did yoga. I also had a workout that I had to do. It was all just to maintain my body.”

In July, the players received an e-mail that the USL was going to try to come back to play.

“I think we were all optimistic,” Sowe said. “We were hoping just to get through this year.”
The Red Bulls II players got back to the training facility in late July.

“We had to practice social distancing,” Sowe said. “We remained six feet apart. But it still felt good to be back together on the field.”

A schedule was set up to insure the safest schedule possible.

“The league tried to figure it all out,” Sowe said. “It felt like a real season. It was just a matter of staying focused. We would work it out, unfortunately with no fans. But we wanted to show everyone how we were able to play.”

The Red Bulls II squad was provided with a 16-game schedule. Sowe broke through this season, leading the team in goals scored with seven, including a three-goal hat trick Sept. 9 against Philadelphia Union II at Montclair State University’s Soccer Park.

The highlight of the season came July 26, when Sowe scored a goal against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, a game-tying goal that came at Red Bull Arena, just a stone’s throw from his front door in Harrison.

“I had played in Red Bull Arena a couple of times, but to score a goal with the Red Bull uniform on was just surreal,” Sowe said. “To be honest, I don’t even remember what happened. I remember looking up at the stands and the chairs and it meant so much to me. Now I’ve done that, I want to do more. I keep setting new standards.”

Now that Sowe has completed his second professional season, he’s already preparing for his third.

“For sure, I think confidence comes with experience,” said Sowe, who has now tallied nine pro goals with Red Bulls II in just 19 games. “I have two years of experience under my belt. I think I’ve done a lot. I think what I’ve done gives me a lot of confidence. It wasn’t the amount of goals that I wanted. But all that matters is that I’ve improved.”

And Sowe knows that he still has a long way to go.

“I think development is the most important part,” Sowe said. “That’s the point of playing soccer. You just want to keep getting better. Of course, my goal is to play for the first team (the main Red Bulls’ squad in Major League Soccer). Or wherever my career takes me. I just have to keep following my dream.”

Sowe feels a special kinship with his coach Wolyniec.

“That’s my guy,” Sowe said. “He’s a major part of my journey. He knows what it takes, having been a Red Bull forward. He’s really helped me a lot. He gives me little tips and then points them out to me. He’s taught me little things, like what to do in the box. It means a lot to me that he’s handed those tips down to me. I think I’m going to score a lot of goals because of him. He’s part of my amazing journey.”

With his second pro season in the books, Sowe is looking toward No. 3. In fact, he’s already started working toward a third season.

“We already have our workouts and had a group chat,” Sowe said. “There really is no offseason.”

Sowe even conducted the phone interview in the middle of a workout session.

For now, Sowe is back home in Harrison, eating his mother’s home cooking. His younger brother, Moustapha, just signed a national letter of intent to play soccer at American University in the fall. Older brother Modou is living these days in Oregon.

“I’m taking advantage of being home,” Sowe said. “I’ve always felt like Harrison is my home. I grew up here. It’s all about the hard work. I always had the dream of going to play at Red Bull Arena. I always pictured myself running onto the field at Red Bull. Just watching that game is still surreal for me.”

Now at the tender age of 20, Sowe feels like he’s on the precipice of even bigger things.

“Every day, I feel like I’m getting closer to my goal,” Sowe said. “I keep telling myself that maybe I need a little more work. Maybe that happens in a week, in a year, whenever it happens, I want to be ready for that call.”

And if the call comes to play regularly for the main club?

“That really would be a dream come true,” Sowe said. “I just want to play soccer, wherever it may take me.”

In the meantime, Sowe will continue to play for Red Bulls II and wear the uniform jersey No. 67. It seems like such a far-fetched reach of a numeral, but there is a method to Sowe’s madness.

“There’s a good reason for it,” Sowe said. “It’s the year my mother (Amie) was born. It means a lot to me. When I put it on when I signed my contract, she didn’t even know. That number is going to stay with me for a while.”

As will Omar Sowe stay with the Red Bulls’ organization.

“I sure hope so,” said Sowe, already under contract for another season. “I will be back with the Red Bulls II. I will be with the organization.”

Who knows? It could be for a very long time to come.




Harrison native Omar Sowe scored a team-high seven goals in 14 games for New York Red Bulls II of the United Soccer League. Photo courtesy of the New York Red Bulls









Learn more about the writer ...

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.”