Amro Tarek
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New York Red Bulls assistant coach C.J. Brown and defender Amro Tarek have been bonding since they were together at Orlando City SC.

Onz Chery

While most New York Red Bulls players were busy having a heated conversation with the Atlanta United players after their game on May 19, 2019, Amro Tarek ran to his assistant coach, Charles James “C.J.” Brown, jumped in his arms and hugged him while passionately screaming at the top of his lungs.

It’s obvious that New York’s 1-0 victory over Atlanta wasn’t just any win for Tarek. RBNY were playing down a man, Atlanta is, of course, their arch-rival, and the Egyptian-American was one of the most instrumental players of the match—a defender who wasn’t expected to play so much or this well this season.

The coach Tarek was passionately hugging wasn’t just any coach.

“C.J. is the reason why I came to the MLS,” the defender told the team’s website.

“He spotted me from Egypt to Orlando. And then he’s the reason why I’m here at Red Bulls. It’s great to have him as a person, as a coach. As an experienced defender, he always gives me advice. I think it’s really nice to have him around.”

Brown was one of Orlando City SC’s assistant coaches from 2016 to 2018. Tarek joined Orlando in 2018.

Twenty-eighteen was a year to forget for Orlando. They finished in last place after conceding the most goals in the MLS, getting scored on 74 times in 34 games.

Tarek put up some incredible performances, thanks to his speed and ferocious tackles, but he also had some rough games due to bad positioning and poor passes.

Brown and Tarek were only together for half a season at Orlando. Brown left the Lions to join New York on July 10, 2018. Four days before that, Chris Armas became the Red Bulls head coach. Armas and Brown played together for Chicago Fire for 10 seasons.

Perhaps, that’s why Brown got the Red Bulls assistant coach job, he’s a familiar face to Armas—a very familiar face.

In early December 2018, which was the offseason, the Red Bulls needed to add a centre-back to their roster because they were down to one central defender on paper. Guess who the club brought. A player Brown is familiar with, Tarek.

“We were looking to strengthen up our centre-back situation,” Brown said, “knowing that we were going to have guys in international teams. So, I worked with Amro in Orlando and I like a lot of the things that he has, which is his strength, his left foot.

“And I thought he would be a good addition, in not just backing up the two centre-backs we have but also pushing for a spot.”

It was a leap of faith to add Tarek to any team back then. As mentioned, the Egyptian-American had some good games at Orlando but also some bad ones. He passed nine teams in nine years before New York signed him. Brown saw Tarek’s talent through his flaws.

The move was official on Dec. 11, 2018, Amro Tarek was a Red Bull player. It was a big move for the California native but it was one that came with so many hurdles.

RBNY entered the 2019 season with the best defenders in the league: 2018 MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long, 2018 Best XI Kemar Lawrence, a right-back with World Cup experience, Michael Murillo and Tim Parker, a 6-foot-2, 195 pound New York native who will make you shake by just looking at you.

Tarek wasn’t even a regular starter on the worst defense in the league, Orlando; and before this season, he had to fight to break into the best backline in the MLS.

To add to that, New York’s style of play is a bit different from most teams and it puts their defense in tough situations. The club plays counterattacking soccer therefore when they lose the ball, their defenders often have attackers charging at them.

Brown was confident Tarek could challenge for a spot in RBNY’s back four. As for Tarek himself.

“I told them [Armas and Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlett] I’m ready to compete. I’m not just coming to be the third choice,” he told MLS reporter Dylan Butler. “I believed in myself, I believed I was going to have a chance to play for an injury or international duty.”

The confidence was there. The next step was to learn how to play New York’s system. Since Brown knew Tarek from his days with Orlando, it was comfortable to coach him.

“Amro coming here and me being here helped a little bit jut because it’s a familiar face. Having somebody you’re familiar with helps you kind of move into the system. It’s been beneficial for both us,” the 44-year-old said.

Tarek noted how much the former Chicago player helped him grasp The Metros style of play.

“Before I came here, we had a conversation, he told me it’s going to be completely different, you have to make adjustments with the team. And I was like ‘Yeah, okay, it’s a new team.’ But I didn’t really expect it to be that different.

“I think he played a big part, he was talking to me and it worked.”

The former Columbus Crew man made his MLS day-view with RBNY on March 2, 2019. He helped New York notch a 1-1 draw against his ex-club cited.

Tarek’s second game was against another team he played for, Orlando, the team where he was with Brown of course.

Together they lost to OC, 1-0, on March 23, 2019. Most of the Red Bulls were off that day but Tarek looked sensational. He was almost always on his man and his tackles were worth every single penny of his salary cap, or maybe even more.

Fast-forward to now: Tarek made 17 appearances so far this season with the Red Bulls. He has mainly been called on when one of the first-choice defenders was absent; however, the Egyptian international didn’t look like a backup defender at all.

He made the MLS Team of the Week twice and done stuff like tackling reigning MLS MVP Josef Martinez on a counter-attack in the box.

In New York’s last match, Tarek and Brown got to beat their former team, Orlando, together. The centre-back had yet another noteworthy performance, which earned him his most recent Team of the Week accolade. He started the Big Apple’s winning goal with an interception.

“What comes naturally for him is the defending part,” Brown said, “being physical, being fast, being strong in his 1V1, being able to do the recovery runs and chase people down. I think that’s just natural and you see that in all the games that he plays.”

The 27-year-old’s natural talent might be the backbone supporting his season with the Red Bulls but his relationship with Brown has been the heart that’s vitalizing it.

New York might lose its star defender, Long, next season; but they have someone ready to step in his shoes.

Originally from Haiti, Ralph 'Onz' Chery started his writing career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He also wrote for First Touch, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League and other local leagues. After graduating, Onz started covering the New York Red Bulls for ESNY and joined Haitian Times.