On Thursday the New York Red Bulls announced the impending sale of central defender Amro Tarek to his former club El Gouna of the Egyptian first division. Tarek is set to officially leave next week in a free transfer that sees New York get a 20% sell-on in the unlikely event that the 29-year-old Tarek ever draws a fee for his contract rights again in the late part of his career.
It was a move that should have been somewhat expected by close observers of a club that has been steadily culling the roster for two seasons now under sporting chief Kevin Thelwell. Tarek isn’t quite part of the bizarre early 2020 troika of Mandela Egbo, David Jensen, and Jason Pendant that turned from decent-pedigreed foreign signings to unwanted exiles in less than a year. Indeed on top of getting more first team looks than those other cases, the meticulously-groomed and social media-savvy Egyptian international has been one of the rare fan favorites in this struggling new look squad. But by this point Tarek had also clearly become an expensive ($400,000 in annual salary) monument to the dysfunctional era at the club under Chris Armas as head coach with Denis Hamlett manning the front office alone, an era the club is now desperately moving away from under the oversight of Thelwell.
Tarek, who ends with 46 league appearances over three seasons for New York, was the first marquee signing of the Armas era and would prove to be one of the few. Reunited with former Orlando assistant CJ Brown on Armas’ staff in the lead-up to the 2019 season, Tarek appeared primed to either provide crucial veteran depth in the backline at center back on the left or perhaps allow a Red Bulls team still looking to maintain the blistering form of 2018 to adjust to a 3-man defensive look. But the Los Angeles-born left footer found himself in and out of the lineup haphazardly and never established himself as a consistent starter in any role. Despite considerable physical and technical tools, Tarek rarely looked comfortable in the demanding movements of the Red Bull-style backline and became one of the many sunk transfer costs of this recent poor patch.
As the Armas era crumbled in 2020, Tarek’s status in New York appeared an afterthought. Indeed, after the installation of Gerhard Struber late last year it was only a dire injury crisis that allowed Tarek back into the lineup. Even the undersized natural fullback Tom Edwards was paired with Sean Nealis by Struber in multiple games earlier this summer rather than turning to the Egyptian. Talks were even lined up for a transfer that would have seen Tarek moved to Apollon Limassol of Cyprus, a move that was only scuttled by New York’s continued injury problems in July.
But strangely enough, in these last few weeks Tarek has been a crucial part of a team that has largely defended well despite scoring woes. In a press conference following the El Gouna announcement on Thursday, Struber praised Tarek as a model professional considering the circumstances. Struber said the exit process had been one of “conversations” with Tarek about what would be best for him and the club and praised him as a strong character whose personality would serve him well going forward.
But the Austrian manager was also quick to note the abilities of new signing Lucas Monzón, the 19-year-old Uruguayan left-footed defender signed at the deadline in August who gives New York the breathing room to shed Tarek’s salary. Stating that Monzón had considerable abilities against the ball and in the air, Struber nonetheless emphasized the need for him to become more comfortable in the “staggering” of the team’s pressing structure and that he would see his first minutes with the reserves in USL over the coming days. While this may leave Monzón in the same rough spot of the learning curve as Tarek, being in such a position on a lower salary and a decade of age in hand makes the Uruguayan a much more worthwhile project for this Red Bulls team taking the long view on things.
As has been repeated by Struber and Thelwell throughout 2021 but particularly since the team’s dive in form over the last two months, the club is patching and probing (and of course loaning) over the course of this year in preparation for what will be an ostensibly more committed offseason this coming winter. While most fans and observers appear willing to grant the duo such time to overhaul what had become a messy roster, the expectations for 2022 on and off the field are becoming that much higher with each individual detachment from the recent past.