With 15 seasons in the books, MLSsoccer.com looks back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made Major League Soccer what it is today. We continue our "What Ever Happened To..." series with former Chicago Fire captain and icon Chris Armas. This article originally ran on Jan. 27, 2011.
Where He Was Then
Even though he broke into MLS and played two seasons with the LA Galaxy, Armas was the heart and soul of the Chicago Fire for nearly a decade. Perhaps the best American holding midfielder of his generation, Armas is one of only four players to be named to the MLS Best XI five times. He won the US Open Cup four times with Chicago and was a vital part of the club’s lone MLS Cup in 1998, and his 66 international caps with the US team are the most for any player who never appeared in a World Cup.
Where He Is Now
Family has largely come first for Armas since he hung up his cleats following the 2007 season. Although he spent another year in Chicago as an assistant coach under Denis Hamlett in 2008, Armas’ path inevitably led back to Long Island, N.Y., where he grew up and first carved his niche as a player with Adelphi University and the USISL’s Long Island Rough Riders.
Armas has been there with his wife and family since leaving the Fire after the 2008 season, raising his two young sons Christopher and Aleksei (both are spitting images of the former Fire captain) and trying to find the perfect next step for his career. He’s currently a physical education teacher at his alma mater, St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, and he’s a member of the MLS Disciplinary Committee.
Armas also recently took the reins of the region’s USSF U-16 team, a job he says is surprisingly similar to when he was the leader of the locker room in Chicago.
“If I coached professionals, much of the lessons would be the same,” Armas said. “How you move the ball, how you simplify the game, how you fit guys into a system.
“Now of course, 15- and 16-year-olds, you can imagine that it’s a lot of fun,” he continued. “Some of the things these guys come up with … it’s pretty fun. But they listen, and getting them to buy in is not that hard, because they know immediately that I know more.”
Do teenagers understand what it means to have a guy like Armas walk into their gym class or lead a soccer practice? Probably not. He admits that those kids largely missed the boat on his career, instead catching a glimpse of his old matches with Chicago or the US national team by way of YouTube.
In fact, the Chicago Fire tribute video that accompanied his retirement has made a home on YouTube, and some of the most recent comments go something like this:
“Yeaaaaaaaaa ST.ANTHONY'S HIGH SCHOOL he is our gym teacher”
Perhaps the biggest change in Armas’ life came in mid-December, when he underwent major hip surgery to alleviate a painful condition that has plagued him since his last days as a player in Chicago. Armas was 35 years old when he retired and not quite ready to call it a career at the time, but his hip was painful enough to warrant a steady dose of painkillers and anti-inflammatory shots that inevitably became too much.
“I want to run around and play with my kids,” Armas said days before the surgery. “I’m looking forward to doing all that stuff pain-free, because even though I haven’t stopped doing a lot of it, I can’t sleep at night because my hip is hurting.”
One thing Armas won’t necessarily be doing anytime soon is working as a hired gun, so to speak, strictly out to earn a paycheck. Although he founded Chris Armas Soccer to offer clinics and training, he’s stepped back from his role and from making his living through expensive and exclusive training sessions.
“One of those things where you’re working on one-on-one training and you’re just in and out, you’re not really invested in a player,” Armas said. “I have a hard time doing it just for money. Me trying to be a businessman and selling myself to soccer right now, that’s not me.”
And that’s quintessential Armas. A team-first player who nonetheless proved he was always one of the best individuals on the field, Armas is a teacher and leader at heart, and now a family man first and foremost.
“This is where I want to be right now, and where I need to be,” Armas said. “Honestly, I think I always knew what this part of my life was going to look like.”
What They Said
“You have the Peter Nowaks or the Cuautémoc Blancos, who are famous or amazing players on the field. Chris is like them, but he’s not looked at in the same starlight. But man, there are big shoes to fill when you lose Chris Armas.”
– C.J. Brown, at Armas’ retirement