Kevin Thelwell: “New York Red Bull is a team that that … needs to be contested and competing at the top of the league. I don’t think either the performance or the results followed.” (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Mediocrity and mid-table standings and results are not in Red Bulls head of sport Kevin Thelwell’s soccer lexicon or plans.
Which was the main reason he decided to fire Chris Armas as head coach Friday.
Speaking to the media via a ZOOM call in the afternoon, Thelwell said that he had seen enough of where the Red Bulls were heading.
“We needed to make the change,” he said.
Later, Thelwell added: “New York Red Bull is a team that that … needs to be contested and competing at the top of the league. I don’t think either the performance or the results followed. So, in terms of what we want to achieve in terms of the ambitions of the football club going forwards, I had to make a decision about whether we felt Chris and CJ [Brown, assistant coach] in particular, could help us to do that. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that was the case. Therefore, it was better to make the change now than to than to wait further down the line.”
Entering weekend’s action, the Red Bulls (3-4-2, 11 points) are in seventh place, barely above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference. But that wasn’t good enough for Thelwell, who joined the team from Wolverhampton Wanderers (England) in February.
The Red Bulls have struggled to find the net. They have only seven goals in nine matches and none of their forwards has tallied a goal this season, an astounding stat.
Red Bulls head of sport Kevin Thelwell during his Zoom press conference with the media after the firing of Chris Armas Friday afternoon.
Posted by Michael Apple Lewis on Friday, September 4, 2020
Video courtesy of the Red Bulls
Armas’ final game as coach came Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena, when the Red Bulls, despite outshooting D.C. United, 17-5, lost, 1-0, on a late goal in stoppage time.
Thelwell might have seen enough Wednesday, but he added it was a cumulative effect.
“I don’t think it’s about one game,” he said. “It was about evaluating where we were across the course of the season. My perspective was, and I didn’t feel like we saw an in terms of the performances. And then fundamentally the results didn’t follow either and so that led to a position where I felt it was right to make a decision at this time.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned everything upside this year. Like every MLS club, the Red Bulls had a preseason and played a handful of games before the season was stopped due to the Coronavirus. They were allowed to return to training in later spring and participated in the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando in July before they were eliminated in the group stage. Almost a month later, the Red Bulls returned to action and scored only two goals in their four games (1-2-1).
“Without question I recognize that Chris and CJ and rest of the team have been operating under what are and continue to be very difficult circumstances,” Thelwell said. “I’m with those guys on a day to day basis, and thought I got to a point where I’ve seen enough in terms of what was being delivered and also what I thought needed to be delivered if we were going to be successful going forward.
“Obviously, there was a disconnect there. I did take that into account of course, and I think it’s taken me a little bit of time probably longer than anticipated to evaluate the situation on that very basis, recognizing that there have been difficult circumstances. But once I made the decision to think it was very clear that we made. We needed to make the change.”
Many coaches get fired after losing the locker room. Thelwell stressed that was not the case.
“I don’t think there’s any signs of that at all,” Thelwell said. “Chris is a very honest, hard-working, committed individual who gave absolutely everything to the cause, would do anything, go out of his way to support players and they all recognize that. Unfortunately, we just found ourselves in a space where, as I’ve said before, the performances weren’t quite the level that we’d expect from the quality of the group.”
Thelwell wouldn’t give any details on what his conversation with Armas was like or how the team learned about the firing or what their reaction was.
“My personal perspective on this is it’s probably not to go into that detail,” he said. “Those sorts of conversations should remain private. I think it’s pretty clear. It would have been communicated appropriately to both the players, and to Chris, and to CJ. And I’m sure you’ll get the opportunity to speak to the players in due course and I’m sure they’ll have a perspective on it.”
No players were made available for comment.
The Red Bulls host the Philadelphia Union at Red Bull Arena Sunday at 7 p.m.