Chris Armas wasn’t going to pull any punches.
“They paid money to see us play,” Armas said. “I’d be pissed off too if watched that performance tonight.”
His New York Red Bulls side had just 2-0 to the Colorado Rapids — statistically the third-worst team in Major League Soccer.
The Red Bulls are a team that crystalised an identity as fast, aggressive, and founded on a high press. In the second half against the Rapids, they looked anything but that, and the result forced some supporters to begin publicly calling for Armas’ firing.
This was not a knee-jerk reaction.
Saturday’s defeat was the Red Bulls’ fifth at Red Bull Arena. ’That’s more than the past two years combined and the most in a season since Red Bull Arena opened in 2010. What started as a hashtag became a chant, and forced captain Luis Robles to confront it head-on.
“There has to be some sort of grace when it comes to his development as a coach at this level,” Robles said. “And I see him grow, I see him continue to learn. And that’s the area where I’m going to give him the biggest benefit of the doubt is, I come to work every single day and I see what he puts into it. And I see just how committed he is to the cause and how he’s looking to make this team better. He’s spending countless hours each week working like a madman.”
Robles has been at the club since 2012 and been at the forefront of their success. It makes the current dip all the more painful. The fans concerns are not only rooted in the present but also what is coming next.
The winter-transfer window represented a quiet time for the Red Bulls. While rivals added Designated Players, big names, exciting youngsters, the Red Bulls procured only a handful of new faces, (outside of homegrown players, Superdraft picks, and internal promotions). Their most recent signing —Josh Sims— has furthered the notion of short-termism, with his loan deal from Southampton ending in December.
While some fans are starting to round on Armas, it is worth considering his tenure in totality.
Armas was handed the reigns in July last year after Jesse Marsch left to join RB Leipzig as an assistant coach. The 47-year-old guided the team to the Supporters’ Shield in 2018, and at the heart of that success was midfielder Tyler Adams. The U.S. international left for Leipzig in January, although rumblings about his departure started months prior.
Losing a player of his calibre was always likely to impact the team this season, but that absence became more pronounced when the club did not choose to sign a replacement. Instead, Armas has leant on Marc Rzatkowski, a signing from within the Red Bull family of clubs. The German has provided more of a goal threat than Adams, but the American’s all-action defensive displays have been noticeably absent from the Red Bulls’ midfield.
Running parallel to that has been the future of midfielder Kaku. The Paraguayan is the team’s playmaker and was linked with a move to Club America earlier in the year. What followed was a series of scathing remarks in public from the player’s agent. There are concerns about whether an adequate replacement will be sought in the event he departs during the off-season.
Throw in an out-of-form Bradley Wright-Phillips, and Armas has undoubtedly had to juggle some sharp knives.
That said, it does not absolve him entirely. There have been questionable line-up choices, odd substitutions, and a distinct lack of a tactical alternative. Despite this, the team remain in the playoff picture, just.
Success in MLS Cup seems unlikely at this point, but regardless it feels as if a change is needed.
In the last year, the club’s relationship with Red Bull GmbH has seen them lose a talented coach and their best midfielder. It has left fans wanting something in return. The news that Ralph Rangnick is to take up a position developing Red Bull’s teams in both Brazil and New York should diffuse some tension.
If nothing else it suggests change is on the horizon. What that change will look like is guesswork. Equally as uncertain is what unfolds for the team between now and the end of the season. The Red Bulls are at a crossroads, and for the first time in a while, their fans are not sure what is coming next.