Chris Armas: “Things are fluid, things can come quickly.” (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Slowly, but surely and one by one, Major League Soccer teams are getting the green light to begin individual workouts.
Since New York and New Jersey were among the states that were heavily hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that the Red Bulls and New York City FC will be among the last clubs to return to training.
That has not been lost on Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas, who has prepared several scenarios on his team’s return to action. He is ready to go, whenever that will be, today, tomorrow, later this week or even next week or next month.
“Things are fluid, things can come quickly,” Armas said in a telephone interview last week. “So, I’m a planning like a preseason thinking to understand that we have to build up the soccer again but also fitness.”
Armas and his staff have looked back to the Red Bulls’ preseason to figure out what went well and what didn’t with this group, so the same mistakes won’t be made while the team starts up toward to resume the season. When MLS stopped the season in March, the Red Bulls were undefeated at 1-0-1, having defeating FC Cincinnati in their March 1 season opener and tying at Real Salt Lake, 1-1, March 7.
“We did a little bit of a debrief after preseason, so it’s really bringing that document back out and seeing how we can make this even better than our first preseason,” he said.
“We are not able to use the Red Bull Training Facility right now, so the guys are doing a lot of this on their own at home. It’s guided workouts, whether its strength work or its they’re finding parks where they can do that at, ball working, some function type of fitness with the ball.”
The second preseason will be about building game fitness and working on playing as a team. Many players have worked out on their own, which is good, but players need to work within a group framework to achieve match fitness.
Over the weekend, Germany restarted the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, becoming the first major league to return.
“Like everyone else, there have been a lot of scenarios that have been thrown out and now they’re talking about Orlando and what this will look like,” Armas said. “Even based on what Europe has done, based on different countries, we’ve seen the different phases.”
MLS is nowhere near returning to league play as many teams have kicked off individual training sessions. The Philadelphia Union, which is based about two hour south of the Red Bulls down I-95, was given the go-ahead to resume individual sessions on Monday. And that’s what Armas and his staff are planning at the present time.
Those group sessions can be varied as well, depending on what the states of New Jersey and New York determine in the coming weeks or perhaps days. The next phase probably will include two to five or two to six players in small group sessions, Armas said.
“We have to prepare for a social distancing type of a set up two to six players and then sessions that are two to six players that have contact and no contact of the social distancing part,” he said. “When we are able to do the smaller group sessions that can be all in. That takes planning. You think different scenarios. You’re talking to other coaches and the fitness coaches and trying to get creative. The next phase of that would be regular training. and we also have to start thinking about games and what that will look like.”
The days of Armas and his staff have been full ones, planning individual and group meetings for the players on the internet.
“We have to make sure that these last few months that we’ve kept it going,” Armas said. “It’s always about being proactive, but it’s certainly about being creative without overthinking it in giving the right doses of [internet] meetings.”
The Red Bulls players have had team, individual, and group — the entire defense – meeting sessions on the internet. Armas also has called players on the phone or via Facetime.
“It’s just being going out of the way, making sure this is happening regularly to keep the spirit alive and strong and making sure that we’re living up to our culture on how we work and how we treat people, how we talk, how we connect,” he said. “That’s been an everyday thing. Certainly, the days have been busy, but it’s really productive in terms of keeping the connections while we’re keeping the soccer ideas and principles, moving in the right direction.”
Needless to say, like every professional coach and athlete, for that matter, Armas is chomping at the bit to get back.
“First of all, I really miss the everyday work with the guys,” he said. “The staff, the discussion, the training sessions, the camaraderie that we all love so much. We were in such a mode. We all signed up for this team sport years and years ago. We all love the team, which means it’s the relationship, the everyday work. And knowing that this is our family, this is what we have going. We’ll put it up for test every single week [against] the crosstown rival, if you will and see how we measure up. In so many ways, that’s been taken away. We all miss it.
“I can’t wait to get back even if it’s in modified way, that we’re back together again. I’m really looking forward to the time when we are and we know that it’s coming soon.”