After a dispiriting 1-0 loss against a rotated D.C. United squad on Wednesday, the New York Red Bulls let manager Chris Armas go. There’s been a growing section of Red Bulls fans wanting to see Armas gone, and with results declining, the club made a tough decision.
Armas took over in the middle of 2018 for Jesse Marsch, a superbly tough act to follow. Marsch is now a successful coach in Europe, and Armas was essentially tasked with continuing Marsch’s revered pressing system in the middle of the Red Bulls’ chase to become one of the greatest teams in league history. Armas was successful in sustaining the club’s success, finishing with 71 points and a Supporters’ Shield trophy. They ultimately lost to Atlanta United in the playoffs, though, with Tata Martino out-coaching Armas.
Red Bulls in a rut
Two years out, the Red Bulls are in a much different position. They had prided themselves on sustainability and shrewd, progressive roster management, but their luck has run out of late. The young replacements for aging veterans haven’t shown up the way they had before.
Their organizational philosophy became clear to everyone in the winter of 2017, when they shocked the league by trading star defensive midfielder Dax McCarty to Chicago, getting a jump on his expected age-related decline. They continued to make such moves in the years since with players like Sacha Kljestan, and attempted to integrate newer, younger players.
Gradually, though, it became clear that the talent they had generated before was not going to reproduce. Tyler Adams was a rare find. Matt Miazga, Aaron Long, Michael Murillo, Sean Davis — all of these core or complementary pieces do not grow on trees, and the Red Bulls began to feel a talent drain. The sale of Adams last year was great for the club overall, but bad for the team on the field. Internal development on some potential long-term pieces, such as Cristian Casseres Jr. and a handful of attackers, stalled.
Armas deserves some blame for the internal development failures. But the decline of some star pieces in 2019 — most notably Bradley Wright-Phillips, who looked his age for the first time last year before finding new legs with LAFC — can’t be fully blamed on Armas.
Armas struggled developing the younger players
When the club moved on from a number of core veterans after the 2019 season, including BWP, Luis Robles, and Kemar Lawrence, the story of the Red Bulls was supposed to be the new guys. There are some promising talents, to be sure, but the club hasn’t quite established a core of players the way they have over the past seven-plus years. Armas wasn’t able to get the most out of his group, and he didn’t since 2018, when he had a much more favorable squad.
The move to let him go is certainly understandable in that context. It makes sense to get a new voice in the locker room who may present new tactical ideas. Armas wants to press, but the Red Bulls struggle to sustain the system throughout games, and they don’t have the defensive personnel to cover mistakes at the top of the formation. (The failure to transfer Aaron Long and his subsequent drop in form has been a big negative for NYRB.)
The task now is to see what you have now in the current group of players, and make roster decisions based on that. Is Kyle Duncan an answer at full back? Is either David Jensen or Ryan Meara the goalkeeper of the future? How many of Florian Valot, Tom Barlow, Marc Rzatkowski, Ben Mines, and Omir Fernandez are legitimate contributors in attack? They have to figure out what their next core of players looks like, and start bringing in some centerpieces. Hire the next coach first, and craft a new direction.