BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – A fifth victory in seven games in charge of the New York Red Bulls came at a stadium Chris Armas admits he feels "very comfortable" in, but he couldn’t quite put into words how it felt to make a winning return to Chicago.
In 10 years with the Fire, Armas made more than 200 appearances, winning the MLS Cup-U.S. Open Cup double in their debut 1998 season and earning a place in the club’s hallowed Ring of Fire for his outstanding service for the Men in Red.
But there was no room for sentiment as he reviewed the Red Bulls’ latest victory, a hard-fought 1-0 success on a Bradley Wright-Phillips goal, which moves them to within a point of Supporters' Shield leaders Atlanta United and keeps New York on a better than 2 points per game pace heading into the stretch.
Armas was asked to reflect on returning at the helm of a rival team, and admitted it was something he had considered, if briefly.
“I can’t say no, because it’s hard to…. I don’t think about that,” Armas said after the game. “Maybe I will at some point, it feels very familiar in this building, so many good memories here, I owe a lot to this organization. I was here when we opened this building so it feels very comfortable, it’s hard to explain because I feel so much more satisfied with three points and watching our team go after it the way we did and, then again, find a way to win which I think good teams know how to do. I don’t have much feeling about beating the old club, I love this club and it’s in my heart, so I can’t really put it into words.”
Armas, of course, isn’t the only link between the Fire of the past and the Red Bulls of today: Sporting Director Denis Hamlett, coach CJ Brown and strength and conditioning coach Tony Jouaux have also spent significant chunks of their career in Chicago, while former coach Jesse Marsch is also a former Fire fan-favorite.
“It’s not just Chris, we have the Chicago Fire East Coast and the entire coaching staff,” Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “We’ve got Tony and we’ve got CJ, we had Jesse, basically half of your Ring of Fire is on our coaching staff. Every game’s important and I think the reason he wants to downplay that is because Chris is too humble to make it about him.
"At the end of the day, it’s going to be about the team and the organization and for us to get three points against a team that’s going through some rough times. But when you look at their best XI they’re a tough team to play against, so to get the full three points on the road at their place is a great result for us.”
Goalscorer Wright-Phillips took his tally to a record-setting 15 for the season with his calm 55th-minute finish from Daniel Royer’s decisive pass after Dax McCarty coughed up possession close to the Fire’s goal line. The Englishman also spoke of the importance of the win on Armas’ former turf by simply highlighted the addition of another three points in their quest to finish the season as well as possible.
"Chris is honest so I don’t think he’d lie about it," Wright-Phillips said. "It’s three points at the end of the day, you know we want to beat any team we play against and this team’s no different."