Chris Armas made 66 appearances with the U.S. men’s national team. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
On June 16, 2004, Chris Armas, then a member of the U.S. men’s national team, returned to his youth soccer club, the N.Y. Hota/Bavarians as the side trained for a World Cup qualifier. Armas is the head coach of the Red Bulls.
By Michael Lewis
FRANKLIN SQUARE, L.I. — As he walked back to the van that would bring him back to the team hotel, U.S. national team midfielder Chris Armas surveyed Park Stadium once again on Tuesday.
He couldn’t believe he was with the U.S. national team on his old stomping grounds on the premises of the N.Y. Hota/Bavarians S.C.
“It’s surreal for me,” he said. “This is the place I grew up practicing, state practices, games on the big field there. To be in my backyard with this team, it just doesn’t go together. It’s special for me for that reason.
“You don’t expect to see this crew. Usually its World Cup qualifiers or in stadiums in bigger cities. Rarely have we made it out this way. It’s great to be here.
“To see that team and those guys at Hota, it’s cool. It’s hard to put into words. The feeling that it is . . . wow.”
Armas played on Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association ODP teams, and as a youth and adult player for Hota, Brooklyn Italians, Frosinone and West Babylon. Many of those games were on the main field at Hota, considered by many the finest amateur and youth field on Long Island.
“It was such a central area,” Armas said. “So many big games were played on the main field. It was such a nice field.”
After practice Armas returned to the team hotel — the Long Island Marriott in Uniondale — for lunch before visiting his wife Justine and son in Queens. The players had the rest of the day off.
As it turned out, the hotel is a long free kick from the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y., where Armas cut his professional teeth with the Long Island Rough Riders a decade ago.
As a rookie, Armas led the team in scoring. In 1995, he helped the team to the U.S. Interregional Soccer League title.
“After we won the championship, I think we celebrated in this hotel,” he said. “It feels like yesterday.”
Tomorrow — Thursday — Armas will get an opportunity get a little more nostalgic as the national team takes on the Riders in a 60-minute scrimmage at Hota.
“I’m sure there are a few guys that are there when I was there,” he said. “It’s still the national team against the team where it all started, my first taste of pro soccer. The whole trip, it’s a quick one. I’m really taking it in and I feel very at ease, comfortable here and at home.”
When the Chicago Fire flies in to take on the MetroStars, it’s usually a fast trip and Armas doesn’t have the opportunity to visit his former coach at Adelphi, Bob Montgomery, or his parents out on the island in Holtsville.
“When I play at Giants Stadium, we obviously come back,” he said. “It’s on the other side in Jersey and I usually head back with the team. And if it’s an extra day, I go to Queens and stay close to the airport and get a little extra time with the wife and baby.”