Some weeks back I referred to the MLS standings as a Seinfeld-esque Bizarro World where up is down and down is up. A quick look at the tables show that characterization holding steady, with last season’s MLS Cup Champions Atlanta United and Supporters Shield-winning New York Red Bulls sharing last place in the Eastern Conference table.
Given the high expectations from the 2018 season, it was hardly surprising when the coaches of the two strugglers became the subject of dismissal rumors, with the cacophony around Red Bulls boss Chris Armas amplified by the identity of his alleged replacement, legendary former Red Bulls and Arsenal star Thierry Henry.
With English site Sky News reporting that Henry was in negotiations to take the helm in Harrison, the writing appeared to be on the wall for Armas. It didn’t help when the Red Bulls dropped a stultifying 1-0 decision to the New England Revolution Saturday night in Foxborough.
Come Monday Armas’ boss, Denis Hamlett, released the briefest of statements:
“Recent reports of Thierry Henry joining the New York Red Bulls are false.”
Evidently a follower of the maxim, generally attributed to Mark Twain, that says, “I wrote a long letter because I didn’t have time to write a short one,” New York’s Sporting Director left out any encouraging words for coach Armas to cling to.
Armas puts rumors “officially to bed”
With that backdrop, High Press Soccer traveled out to the Red Bulls Training Facility in Whippany, New Jersey on a perfect Tuesday morning and asked Armas if he had been disturbed by the speculation surrounding his future employment.
Not surprisingly, Armas denied any concern, telling High Press and the two other journalists gathered in a mini-scrum on the edge of one of Red Bulls practice fields, “officially that was put to bed yesterday.”
“From day one,” the former USMNT d-mid continued, “the inside is what we really care about here. And from day one, I was made known that things were just rumors.”
“So imagine now on the outside what’s talked about and imagine the comfort on the inside here,” Armas explained, “which allowed us to show up every day and continue to give everything every day.”
How quickly did Hamlet privately quash the Henry rumors? “As soon as it came out,” Armas responded. “We, the team, was aware of that. I was aware of that, the staff on the inside, again, where things mattered, that was taken care of.”
Armas added that impressions outside of the group didn’t concern him. “No, not at all. I mean in this business – I’ve been around a long time. I mean, we’re always subject to criticism.”
“When I was a player,” Armas continued, “it was the same. You know, so many people (saying) Chris Armas, stinks, why is he on the national team? – (he) shouldn’t be starting, you know, why isn’t he an all-star?”
Flashing a hint of defiance tempered by an understanding of the realities of his chosen profession, Armas went on. “And then you achieve everything and then maybe they quiet down.”
“But in this business, especially when we’re not winning, we’re subject to that. Which is, which is fair game for the folks on the outside.”
But Armas is no longer a player, with the ability to change minds with his performance on the pitch. Nor is he an assistant, allowed to quietly do his work on the anonymity of the training ground. Surely it is different to face the slings and arrows of a disgruntled fanbase as the frontman, as the face of the franchise?
Intentionally or not, Armas channeled the Derek Jeter, Joe Torre Yankee dynasty of the late ’90s and early aughts with his answer.
“Yeah, listen, you know, I remind myself, and I think people who know me know that I don’t really get too high. I mean, on the inside, I love winning. I love success. It’s what I’ve experienced in my career, but I’ve had downs as well, with losses and injuries, and I’ve never gotten too low, at least not for too long.”
Don’t get too high- never get too low. It’s not a bad way to approach a job that invites the type of scrutiny a head coach can endure in the New York marketplace, even if the spotlight doesn’t shine with quite the same intensity on Armas as it does on some of his local coaching brethren.
It’s there though. “So yeah, it’s a, it’s interesting, because last year, you know, it’s this isn’t my first go around, right? I took over the team last year, you’d say it was a really difficult half a season to deal with.”
“And,” Armas noted, “we came out of that looking pretty good. I mean, not much was talked about our team, or me in general, and again, don’t need that. But again, didn’t get too high. And now I’m certainly, I’m certainly not going to get too low.”
Armas paints a picture of a coach and a team that puts its faith in hard work, not rumors.
“What we do is show up every day, where we love the training session today, the energies, right, we believe so much in what we’re doing, we just gotta, we gotta get some results. We know that. And we’re pushing hard.”