CHESTER, Pa. — After guiding the New York Red Bulls to the Supporters’ Shield over the final four months of the 2018 season, head coach Chris Armas has had a rockier year two at the helm of his hometown club.
As is usually the case, the criticism has followed results that have put the Red Bulls a little too close to the playoff line for comfort. The criticism reached a crescendo after a 2-0 home loss to the Colorado Rapids on Aug. 31, when fans started chanting for Armas to be fired.
Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin can relate to criticism from fans calling for his job. Though the voices aren’t as strong with the Union enjoying their best season to date, the sixth-year head coach was on the hot seat as recently as March after back-to-back losses to start the season.
“I can relate to some adversity for sure, I think in his case it’s really unfair, to be honest,” Curtin said when asked about his counterpart in Sunday’s match at Red Bull Arena (6:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada).
“He’s coming off a Supporters’ Shield and I know how much he works and how much he puts into it. I would also add, though: You’re never going to make everybody happy. That’s this line of work. In today’s day and age with Twitter and with different things, you’re not going to be able to please everybody.”
Curtin and Armas were teammates with the Chicago Fire for seven years. Armas was a longtime captain and icon of the Fire, where he played 10 seasons and made over 200 appearances.
“He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around,” Curtin said. “He’s a guy who won a Supporters’ Shield with that group last year. He’s a winner, he’s a guy that I respect a great deal. He’s someone I learned a lot from as a player.”
After their 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers on Wednesday night, the Red Bulls sit in sixth place, eight points behind the second-place Union. The Red Bulls have only once finished below Philly in the standings, back in the Union’s second season in 2011.
One of the noticeable differences Union captain Alejandro Bedoya sees in this year’s Red Bull team over the one that won the 2018 Shield — for the third time in six years — is who is no longer in their midfield.
“When you lose a player like Tyler Adams, the guy’s engine is crazy, I mean that guy covered so much ground,” Bedoya said. “They have nobody there that can replace that kind of game. The way they play with the second balls, just trying to win second balls, they don’t have anybody there who can do that like Tyler Adams.”
A 20-year-old US international, Adams was transferred to RBNY’s German sibling club RB Leipzig over the winter. Another key player in last year’s team, Bradley Wright-Phillips, has seen his production drop significantly, with only two goals in 20 appearances and just nine starts this season for a player who had 17 or more goals in each of the previous five seasons.
Wednesday night’s win in Portland was just the team’s second in their past seven games.
“In this line of work there’s going to be really high highs, and there’s going to be lows as well,” Curtin said. “The sign of any good coach is how you do when there are a couple losses. Do you keep the group going, do you keep them together just like [Armas] has? They’re still a team [that], when we play each other, the records get thrown out the window.”
The way the schedule lined up this season, Curtin gets to face his former Fire teammate a week after playing his former Fire coach, LAFC’s Bob Bradley, to a 1-1 draw. That was after facing a coach he never imagined he’d one day share a touch line with in Atlanta United’s Frank de Boer, whom Philly beat 3-1 at home.
“This run of games, you go Frank de Boer, Bob Bradley and Chris Armas,” Curtin noted. “Sometimes you kind of have to pinch yourself when you’re in these moments. Once the opening whistle blows for the 90 minutes you can’t be friends, that’s part of it. But [Chris and I will] talk after the game and share some memories for sure.”