Chris Armas: …….
By Michael Lewis
Transition? What transition?
Here it is midway through the MLS season and the Red Bulls have a new head coach running the show.
Chris Armas will take over for the departed Jesse Marsch, who is on to what he hopes is bigger and better things in Europe.
Armas indicated he will continue the team’s philosophy of having a high-pressure defense, trying to deprive the opposition of the ball in the midfield before the Red Bulls counter quickly with their fast forwards and midfielders.
It has worked pretty damn well this season as New York is in second place in the Eastern Conference with a 10-4-2 mark and 32 points, five points behind first-place Atlanta United. The Red Bulls have three games in hand.
“I’ve been around for Jesse’s tenure, so I understand more than ever, the philosophy, the tactics, the way we play, the personnel, the depth, USL, academy,” Armas told reporters during a press conference at the Red Bull training facility in Hanover, N.J. Friday. “I’ve invested myself completely in this club. Probably most of all that would help in a transition here, and I can see it over two days, is respect that I’ve given, that I’ve gotten from the guys, and I can feel that. There’s real support from the players. At the end of it, that’s what it’s about. The players in our circle, you know, how we’re going to push forward. I think there’s a built-in trust and relationships are all there and established. So, it’s to build on that, just with a different voice. I’m excited and ready for this leadership role and to push this group.”
Sporting director Denis Hamlett, who had the final say of hiring the 45-year-old Armas, felt the transition will be seamless.
“It’s important in terms of when we kind of identify players we want to make sure that they fit into our system and part of the process from the academy all the way up to our second and first team is to also educate the coaches to understand how we play, so prepare them for their next step because you never know in life when that opportunity is going to come,” he said. “So, in my position I want to make sure now that you plan the right way so if something like this happens then you’re ready. You don’t have to look outside, you can look inside to make sure now you have someone in place. Like I said, the most important part is having someone who understands how we play and how we do things because that’s not going to change and I think that’s key. So that made the decision so much easier.”
While he will continue the club’s system, Armas is his own man.
"It's a dream come true, and I'm really excited."Watch Chris Armas in his first interview as Head Coach of the New York Red Bulls
Posted by New York Red Bulls on Friday, July 6, 2018
Video courtesy of the Red Bulls Facebook page
Armas rattled off the names of coaches he played for or served under. The heady list included Bob Bradley, Juan Carlos Osorio, Lothar Osiander, Alfonso Mondelo, Bob Montgomery, Manny Schellscheidt and Hamlett at the club level, and Bruce Arena and Dave Sarachan at the international level.
“You never try to replicate or copy Jesse,” he said.
Like a good student, Armas has taken a bit from each of his mentors.
“I was always listening and taking,” he said. “Some of it was, ‘Hey, that’s really good’ and some of it was ‘Chris, don’t ever do that, really.’ I didn’t like the way he treated that guy, there’s a different way to handle that. And sometimes they’re really good the practices, and some of those coaches were really organized and different every day and it was really good. Bob Bradley, fantastic man, manager, and details, and was relentless. I loved that. That’s going to be part of me. So I just kept taking, and maybe deleting, and adding, and then you run your own race. It’s time to run my own race. You can talk this, talk, and then you get there, and it’s my time to put a stamp on this team which is already good.
“I’ve been preparing, it sounds cliché, my whole life for this moment. The dream was to be a pro soccer player. When I was in college my mom wanted to know what to study. I said ‘mom, I want to be a pro.’ ‘Well Chris, there’s no pro league.’ ‘I’m just telling you, you asked a question, that’s what I want to do.’ And sure enough the timing was right. It worked out. Things have worked out for me that way. I put myself in spots for that to happen. It’s always been through hard work and relentless to the goal and the next step.”
Armas praised his precedessor, Marsch, who is reportedly headed to Germany to work with Red Bull Leipzig in some capacity, whether it is as a coach, assistant coach or perhaps front office.
“Four years, like we spent too much time together,” Armas said. “On the phone, on the trips, what a time we’ve spent together. He epitomizes leadership. So, I’ve been taking it in, learning along the way, as a player, again, and its words for me. I’ve lead teams to trophies, I’ve been part of winning in a leadership role. So, you got to start somewhere and at this level as a head coach and it was going to happen eventually. I took the job four years ago not to be an assistant coach forever. It was coming. And now it’s just a dream come true to be right here. Again, I can’t wait for this chance and the leadership of this team. I’m ready for it guys.”
Armas stressed he was all business, although there was time for fun as well.
“The humor one is funny because I think even today the tone of our meeting that we had with the guys, people who really know me and even guys who have played against me, I’m a nice guy, and I can give and take a joke here and there, but it’s business for me,” he said.
Yes, Armas has won a few trophies, including the 1998 MLS Cup, three Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles and one Supporters Shield in his 10-year MLS career.
The Red Bulls, who have been to the MLS championship match once and came away losers. Whether you think the Red Bulls are U.S. pro soccer’s version of the old Chicago Cubs or Boston Red Sox, it remains to be seen.
He knows what his ultimate charge with the Red Bulls is — to grab Major League Soccer’s holy grail for once and for all.
“There’s one goal in mind and that’s to get a shiny thing we haven’t got here,” he said.
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