Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #40 Call him the Eraser
|Chicago 2||D.C. United 0|
|Did You Know?|
|Chris Armas played five friendlies for Puerto Rico before switching international allegiances and making 66 appearances for the USA.|
#40. Call Him the Eraser (1998)
The look in his eye said it all at MLS Cup ‘98.
D.C. United playmaker Marco Etcheverry was getting frustrated and every now and then the Bolivian maestro would shoot a glance over to the primary source of his frustration: Chicago’s Chris Armas.
“There were a couple of looks here and there that could kill, but I didn’t get caught up in it,” Armas recalls. “I have so much respect for Marco Etcheverry in all the years I played against him.”
Armas was Chicago’s defensive midfielder at MLS Cup 1998 in the Rose Bowl and his paths crossed with Etcheverry on several occasions throughout that final. Many believe that the result of that title game turned on the matchup between those two players. Armas was the key to the expansion Fire’s ability to shock the two-time defending champions with a 2-0 shutout victory.
It was also the matchup that may have launched Armas’ US national team career as D.C. United manager Bruce Arena took over the USMNT program just days after that 1998 championship match. He earned his first cap just days later on November 6 against Australia.
“For Chris, the performance in the final capped a tremendous year for him and it definitely opened the door for him on the national team level,” former Fire midfielder Diego Gutiérrez says. “It was a variety of sequences and his positioning, tackling and reading of the plays [in MLS Cup 1998]. He just seemed to be at right place at the right time every single time. Aside from initial five minutes, I don’t think Marco or Jaime [Moreno] had any good looks. They didn’t get a chance to playmake because Chris was all over the place. Our defensive performance that day was magnificent.”
“Bob [Bradley] had coached in D.C. for two years and knew that team very well,” says current Chivas USA and then Chicago goalkeeper Zach Thornton. “He knew that if you stopped the supply from Richie Williams to Marco, then you have a really good chance of making it a tough day for D.C. Chris Armas is one of the best players I’ve played with in my career. His job was to try and take Marco out of the game and eliminate the balls supplied by Richie Williams. He had a big day on a big stage.”
Stopping playmakers like Carlos Valderrama and Mauricio Cienfuegos was Armas’ M.O. in 1998 and facing Etcheverry was nothing new. It was a head-to-head confrontation that dated back to MLS Cup 1996 when Armas played for the LA Galaxy.
“In 1996 when I marked him I thought I did a pretty good job and he had two or three assists from set pieces [for goals] because good players find a way to make plays,” Armas recounts. “We had battles in 1998, too, and on that day it becomes about doing the same things you’ve done: stay close and make it hard. That was my job description. He’s one of the best passers the league has ever seen. Can you limit the amount of time and space he has on the ball? It’s a cat and mouse game.”
“That’s him — he’s a competitor and he does his job,” Thornton says. “Chris was doing such a good job on him. But only after watching the game later do you realize how limited he made Marco, which was difficult thing to do at that moment in time.”
Today, Armas is the women’s head coach at Adelphia University, just two miles from his home. Although he’s making family his priority after a long professional career on the road, he’s still connected to the professional game through his involvement in several MLS subcommittees in which he’s an active participant.
But even 13 years later, he speaks as if he’s still toiling away deep in an MLS midfield somewhere in the country.
“There are a lot of things that go into my game as a defensive midfielder and one of them is limiting one of their key players – take away their heartbeat,” Armas says. “My part of the field was Marco’s part of the field. I was not reinventing anything. I was just doing the honest work.”
And that’s the honest truth.