He’s still only 20 years old, but Omar Sowe is beginning his third year of professional soccer.
Sowe, the Harrison native and former two-time All-State performer with the Harrison High School Blue Tide, is indeed in his third year with the New York Red Bulls II, the franchise in the United Soccer League that serves as the main farm club – so to speak – for the Red Bulls of the Major Soccer League.
The Red Bulls II squad dropped its season opener last Friday night to Hartford, but Sowe, the team’s main striker, remains certain that this will be his best year as a pro.
“I think this is going to be a good year,” Sowe said in a telephone interview last week. “It’s actually my first full season. The first year was basically a month and a half and last year was hurt by COVID. And yes, I have another year of being 20. For a 20-year-old, it’s easy to say that I have a lot of time.”
Since this will mark Sowe’s first full season as a professional, he’s looking to expand on what he’s done over his short time with the Red Bulls II. Sowe scored two goals in limited action in 2019, but tallied a team-high seven goals in the COVID-shortened campaign, including the first hat trick of his career against the Philadelphia Union II on Sept. 9. Sowe also scored three goals in the Red Bulls II last scrimmage two weeks ago, proving he was ready for the challenge ahead in 2021.
“I always have the opportunity to learn and get better,” Sowe said. “I love the sport and just want to keep getting better. All that matters is that I’m getting better. I want to show the Red Bulls that they did the right thing in signing me and hopefully the best is yet to come.”
Sowe said that he’s following the guidance given to him by his father Alhagi, a native of Gambia in Africa.
“My Dad always tells me that what you do tomorrow is the most important thing,” Sowe said. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about yesterday.’ I just want to be better than what I was. I want the third year to be better than the second year. I can’t brag on what happened in the preseason. It all begins with the regular season.”
Red Bulls II head coach John Wolyniec, a long-time member of the old MetroStars and later New York Red Bulls of the MLS, knows that Sowe can be a dominant scorer.
“It’s all about learning and growing with him,” Wolyniec said. “Last year, there was a rush to get back after a long pause and that was so much to ask of a young player. He’s still trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. I do see some growth in Omar. There are the little things that need to be ironed out.”
It helps that Wolyniec played the same position as Sowe for a decade with the Red Bulls.
“I think this year sets up well for him,” said Wolyniec, who is still ranked in the top five in matches played in the history of the MetroStars/Red Bulls franchise. “I think the closer to goal we can find him, the better. He still strikes the ball well with both feet and has good finishing ability. He has good size and power. I envision him with the ability to attack the goal. We do have some flexibility with him. We can maneuver him around a little. But he has a good soccer IQ and can thrive in different spots. I definitely can see his endless potential. He has the weapons. He just needs a little consistency. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago, he was playing in high school.”
No truer words were said. In 2018, Sowe was named the New Jersey Player of the Year by the New Jersey Soccer Coaches Association. Less than a year later, he was playing professionally with Red Bulls II.
“I have to give him credit for all the steps he has taken,” Wolyniec said. “I’m going to continue to help him.”
Of course, it’s every USL player’s dream to make the ascension into play in either the MLS – or perhaps another league abroad. That’s on Sowe’s mind as well.
“I think I’m a good enough player to play at a very high level,” Sowe said. “Whether my career brings me here with the Red Bulls or somewhere else, I don’t know yet. I just want to take advantage of every minute of this opportunity I have. If I’m given an opportunity to play elsewhere, I’d have to consider it. Right now, I think I’m still a little bit under the radar.”
Sowe said that he has major motivation to move up the ladder in professional soccer.
“I always wanted to be able to give my parents a debt free life,” Sowe said. “One of my biggest motivations was to take care of my parents, to give them a home they deserve.”
Sowe’s mother Amie is so important to Sowe that he wears uniform No. 67 in honor of his mother, who was born in 1967.
The Sowe family remains in Harrison. Omar’s older brother, Modou, a standout at Harrison as well and a former All-State defender, still plays a little and resides these days in Oregon, but the younger brother, Moustapha, has signed a national letter of intent to play at American University in the fall, after playing two seasons with the Blue Tide.
Can Sowe make the climb to play with the main club in front of thousands of avid fans at Red Bull Arena in his hometown in the near future?
“I certainly think there’s a possibility,” Wolyniec said. “I think he’s close. I hesitate to put a time frame on his development and of course, things change in pro soccer. He’s had some bumps in the road, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he played in the MLS.”
For now, Sowe will remain a mainstay with Red Bulls II and point toward the future.
“I think we’re all hungry,” Sowe said. “I think we all want to be seen and recognized. I’m just excited to get this season started. I’ve lost all the jitters about being a pro. Now, it’s all just excitement. It’s just a matter of staying fit and hoping my teammates can give me the opportunity to find the back of the net.”
Chances are that will happen a lot for Sowe in 2021. The Red Bulls II will face the Charleston Battery Friday night at the Montclair State University Soccer Park, where Red Bulls II play their home games. Some fans are allowed to attend the game, but check with the Red Bulls’ ticket office to see about availability.
Harrison native Omar Sowe is having a ball playing for the New York Red Bulls II of the United Soccer League with the aspirations of moving up the soccer chain in the future. Photo courtesy of the New York Red Bulls.
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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.”