Chris Armas represented the USA 66 times in his career. (www.AndyMead.YCJPhoto)

This story, posted in November 2009 on MLSnet.com., is used with permission

By Michael Lewis

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – As he walked off the Gillette Stadium pitch Thursday night, Chicago Fire captain and midfielder Chris Armas realized the Eastern Conference semifinal loss to the New England Revolution probably his final game of his MLS career.

“I do feel like it’s it for me,” he said in a somber and sullen Fire locker room after the Revolution booked passage to MLS Cup behind a 1-0 win.

“I played this season and I played today like this was my last game,” he added.

Armas, 35, was 99 percent certain that was it, although he left the door open just a bit. He said a contract would not be an issue on whether he returns.

“I don’t know where the organization is in terms if they want me to play another year,” he said. “A return commitment from me to be all the way this year is difficult. I’m curious to see how the talks go.”

Regarded by many as the best defensive midfielder in MLS history, Armas has been battled a deteriorating hip for most of the season.

“I haven’t really wavered, though,” he said. “I think that’s it. I’ll know much more in the coming days.”

While standing up next to his locker, Armas spoke softly and slowly, almost as though he was trying to take in his final moments in a locker room.

“I feel very sad,” he said. “I do feel like that was my last game as a professional soccer player. It’s hard to talk to the guys about it. I feel for the guys and maybe have some feel for me that way. I feel very proud. I am so pleased the way this season ended up. We really put a good effort out tonight to get to a championship match.

“I’ve got mixed emotions right now. I feel good about the way I played this game all these years and the way we carried ourselves today. Besides being sad, I still love this game. I think its all normal emotions.”

In an interview earlier this year Armas spoke of retiring after the season.

“My body is telling me that probably this should be it,” he said. “Physically, with soccer I can still make all the plays I need to make. My knees have taken a beating over the years and my hips have some arthritis. I want to enjoy my family and function later on.”

Armas said Thursday he planned to meet with a doctor about his ailing hip.

“I know what I have going here, a hip issue,” he said after the game. “It needs some attention. They’re the experts. They’ll probably shed some light for me. I definitely want to get the information from the club, from the doctor, discuss it with my family and go from there.”

That’s what Fire coach Juan Carlos Osorio felt Armas should do.

Asked about his gut feeling on Armas’ future with the club, Osorio replied, “I would prefer not to make a comment. I think that’s entirely up to Chris. I think he has been very successful in MLS. He has to be proud of himself as far as his career, as a footballer. But that ultimate decision has to come from him. I’m sure the club will adjust to that. Chris has to sit down, probably with his family and make a decision.”

If Armas does call it a career, it will mark the end of a 14-year professional career that began with the Long Island Rough Riders in 1994 after he graduated from Adelphi University .

Armas was a member of the Rough Riders’ 1995 U.S. Interregional Soccer League championship team, a formidable side that boasted the likes of former MLS all-stars Tony Meola, Giovanni Savarese and Jim Rooney, among others.

Armas went on to play in MLS for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1996. He was dealt to the then expansion Fire along with Mexican international goalkeeper Jorge Campos and has been an integral part of that team since, including the 1998 MLS Cup winners. He played on the losing side in three MLS Cups (1996, 2000 and 2003).

(Note: Armas played five times for Puerto Rico in the 1993 Caribbean Cup, which originally had blocked him from playing for the U.S. men’s national team. But since the competition was not recognized by FIFA, which ruled that his five appearances were in friendies, opening a door to play for the USA in 1998).

He was capped 66 times for the U.S. national team, wearing the armband three times and scoring twice, although he never got an opportunity to play in the World Cup (2002 and 2006) and Olympics (2000) due to knee injuries.

Armas made his mark as the best defensive midfielder of his era. In the early days of the league, Armas was called upon to shut down the likes of Marco Etcheverry, Carlos Valderrama, Mauricio Cienfuegos and Preki. More often than that, Armas came up on top, stifling his opponent.

Osorio called Armas a “great captain, great leader. He gives everything he has in every single game.”

He added that he also was impressed with Armas’ “tactical awareness. He keeps the midfield under his control. Very good distributor of the ball. It would be a great loss if that’s his decision. We’ll see what he decides.”

Armas said he would like to return to the New York City area and become a coach at some level. He is married to Justine and has two sons Christopher Jr. and Aleksei.

“I would like to get into some situation where it keeps me in New York,” he said earlier this year. “It’s not saying that I wouldn’t do anything else. I would love to coach in MLS. But I [would love] to coach at the university or other setting. i just don’t know what’s going to be available in the coming year.”