Last Wednesday's friendly against A.C. Milan aside, it has been awhile since Fire fans have seen their captain, midfielder Chris Armas, with his fellow "Men in Red." Plenty has changed since Armas last took the field for the Fire in MLS play on June 26 against Real Salt Lake, as his squad has vaulted into first place in the Eastern Conference and is already knee deep into this year's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which continues Wednesday with a fourth round clash against the rival New England Revolution.
Chicago-Fire.com took a second to catch up with the Fire's busy captain, who seems ready to go full speed ahead into the rest of the 2005 campaign.
Chicago-Fire.com: Your absence from the Fire was officially excused, as you helped the U.S. national team to its third CONCACAF Gold Cup crown last month. Trophy hoisting aside, did you accomplish the things you wanted to during your month back on the national team?
Chris Armas: I accomplished every goal I had set for myself. I wanted to be part of a team that won the Gold Cup and take advantage of as much playing time as I was given, and both of those happened for me.
CF: Having played in all six games in the tournament, you obviously played a large part in the U.S.'s victory. What did it mean to you personally to help the U.S. take back the Gold Cup?
CA: It's not easy to be the last team standing in any tournament like that. To win the whole thing and contribute along the way makes me feel very accomplished. As the weeks went on, the group grew closer and came together, and holding the trophy in the end was a great reward.
CF: Before you got a chance to rest over the MLS All-Star Break, you came back to Chicago to help the Fire give A.C. Milan all that it could handle ... and then some. With that friendly now in the past, what do you think the Fire can take out of it to help build towards the final third of the season?
CA: I think it can be a confidence booster, showing that we can play against some of the best players in the world. At the same time, it's a reminder for us to tighten things up around the field and not let teams expose us. We needed ten chances for one goal and they need four or so for their three goals. I think it showed us that in order to be champions this year we have to step it up another notch.
CF: With all the matches and traveling you've dealt with recently, it must have taken some type of toll on you both physically and mentally. How did you spend the All-Star Break, and was it enough time to help you recharge the batteries?
CA: It was a nice break. I took full advantage by spending time with my family here in Chicago. I gave my mind and body a good chance to relax and reboot.
CF: Now it's time to get back to duty, and the Fire starts off with a big Open Cup contest at New England. Would you have preferred to start back up with a regular season contest, or do you think playing an Open Cup match will do just as much to get you guys in the proper mindset for the final push this season?
CA: I think it's a good way to get back into this final stretch of the season. You get the feeling that our success is going to have to go through New England at some point, so why not start it off with them in a single-elimination tournament.
CF: Does the fact that tonight's contest comes against New England, your co-leaders in the Eastern Conference, give the squad any extra motivation?
CA: I can speak for myself when I say I don't care if it's New England or a (USL) First Division team. It's a game that can get us one step closer to the Open Cup Championship, and that's what we're striving for.
CF: And finally, the Fire faces a stretch of three home games in eight days upon arriving back in Chicago. How important of a stretch do you think that week will be for this club, especially heading into a very long stretch of road games to follow?
CA: It's crucial to pick up as many points as possible at home. Nine points would be ideal and, in my opinion, necessary because we do end the season with six out of eight games on the road. We do end on a tough stretch, but, home and away, every game will take on a playoff type of atmosphere and this should separate the teams a little bit. We're really going to see who's in form at the end of it.