Armas Returns to His Old Stomping Grounds With Red Bulls

A former Chicago Fire legend, Chris Armas returns to Toyota Field on Saturday night as the New York Red Bulls‘ head coach.

Acquired in a trade during the team’s expansion year in 1998, Armas was an original member of the Fire who came to prominence with the club. Armas was considered one of the faces of what was once considered one of Major League Soccer’s best clubs in the league’s infancy.

His form in Chicago under then-head coach Bob Bradley earned him regular calls to the United States Men’s National Team. Armas retired in 2007 as arguably the best defensive midfielder in MLS history.

[Dyer: Bradley Proud of Both Armas and Marsch]

Apr 15, 2007; Commerce City, CO, USA; Chicago Fire midfielder (14) Chris Armas dribbles upfield against the Colorado Rapids in the first half at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO. The Rapids and Fire tied 1-1. Mandatory Credit: Photo By Byron Hetzler-USA TODAY Sports Copyright (c) 2007 Byron Hetzler

Having faced his mentor Bradley last Sunday in a 2-1 Red Bulls win over Los Angeles Football Club, Armas visits his past again this weekend.

Named to the club’s “Ring of Fire” as an all-time great, no one is as synonymous with the team’s success during those formative years than the current Red Bulls gaffer.

His 10 years with the club includes an MLS Cup and four U.S. Open Cups titles.

[Watch Red Bulls vs. Fire Saturday at 8 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]

“Every time I step into that building, it brings so many good memories,” Armas said following training Thursday. “I played a few years in that building and much of my career was at Soldier Field, but we opened that building in Bridgeview.

“Every time you walk through that tunnel, there are season ticket holders who have been there since ’98 and some familiar faces left working for the organization. There’s always a special place for me; now it’s a little different because I’m going there as a head coach. Certainly, [I] will reflect for a moment what that will be when I get there. But, again almost like last game, certain dialogue going in, it will be easy to focus on what we’re there for, which is three points.”

Currently, the Fire is a far cry from those Fire teams of yesteryear that featured MLS greats such as Piotr Nowak, Ante Razov, DaMarcus Beasley, Josh Wolff, Lubos Kubik and, of course, Armas. The Fire is in 10th place with just 23 points, good for second-worst in the Eastern Conference.

Despite this, Armas called Chicago “a difficult place to play.” He said the motivation for what could be a trap game for his high-flying Red Bulls comes from the fact that the Fire beat New York at Red Bull Arena earlier this year.

Back in those days, these two teams didn’t like each other. Contests often got physical and heated between the sides.

Chris Armas #14 of the Chicago Fire Jozy Altidore #17 of the New York Red Bulls battle for the ball at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands on May 24, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Getty Images/MLS)

In 2000, Armas and the Fire engaged in several hard-fought matches in the regular season with the New York franchise and it was Chicago who knocked the then MetroStars out of the Eastern Conference Finals in what might be one of the best postseason match-ups in the history of MLS to date.

“For me, playing in Chicago against New York was always a weird one because early on, I wanted to play for that team,” Armas said. “That’s why I wanted to beat that team. There was always family at the game at Giants Stadium or two people holding up a sign.”

Born in the Bronx, Armas played his college soccer locally at Adelphi. He then went on to play two years locally for the Long Island Rough Riders before joining MLS and the LA Galaxy in 1996.

The MetroStars never did try to sign him despite the fact that he played on Long Island and was a star midfielder in the old USISL in their own backyard. Armas would go on to develop into one of the best midfielders in league history.

“It was always a bit special because I was playing against my hometown club,” he said. “And now here I am with them, which was always in my mind. It will be easy for me to think about it but focus on what we’re doing here. It is again about the 90 minutes on Saturday night.

“I think it has changed, so much has changed. The stadiums have changed, the personnel but what hasn’t changed first is that it is always a tough game against them, for whatever reason. The same conference, both teams are very good traditionally and that always sets up for a tough match.”

[Watch Red Bulls vs. Fire Saturday at 8 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]