A return to Red Bull Arena this Saturday for Chris Armas is certainly meaningful. Now head coach of Toronto FC, Armas will face the club he led for parts of three seasons and took to a considerable level of success in his first year coaching Canadian club.
Armas was fired by the Red Bulls last September, this after two previous seasons as head coach that included a Supporters Shield in 2018 and a respectable fifth-place finish in the CONCACAF Champions League in 2019.
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The firing of Armas, while welcomed if not celebrated by a certain segment of the fanbase, doesn’t necessarily hold muster. The Red Bulls were among the lowest spending organizations in all of MLS the previous two years and it was clear that, in 2020 in particular, the franchise was unwilling to spend while Armas was the head coach.
As soon as sporting director Kevin Thelwell was able to get his replacement at head coach in Gerhard Struber, suddenly the Red Bulls began to spend some money this offseason. This despite the fact that Armas, with one of the weakest rosters in the league, was able to navigate two playoff appearances and a trophy in 2018 and wasn’t rewarded with a competent roster.
During Armas’ stint as head coach of the Red Bulls, the likes of Michael Amir Murillo, Kemar Lawrence and Tyler Adams were sold to Champions League clubs in Europe. All three were influential pieces to the 2018 team that had the best record in MLS.
None of the three were suitably replaced by the organization on the transfer market. And yet Armas was the one held accountable when Red Bull ownership was unwilling to write some meaningful checks for impact players.
“It was the club I was at for six years but honestly, it’s really about going there and getting our season going,” Armas said this week in media availability with the Toronto FC media.
“It’s been a great start to the year in terms of just being in real games where every game matters…but now we can turn our focus to the MLS season and that’s probably the most important thing in terms our game on Saturday – going there, throwing it out there and getting three points.”
The Red Bulls got their first win of the season this past weekend, beating the Chicago Fire 2-0. It was a strong performance from the Red Bulls and the Fire looked inept and out of sorts.
Armas said Toronto FC “will have their hands full” this weekend.
Under Struber, the Red Bulls are clearly still working through their identity and preferred tactical alignment. Stylistically, the Red Bulls clearly want to take their pressing to another level. Winning second balls and creating a tilted field is clearly part of what Struber wants his team to do.
“They’ve played some different systems in their few games, they’ve played some different systems within [these] games. What doesn’t change is the philosophy with which they play. With Gerhard as their coach, they are very strong with their identity of playing with intensity and pressure,” Armas said.
“How they actually structure that, we have some ideas but we know they were successful in their last match getting a victory. Regardless of – let’s call it a system – the principles don’t change that much. It becomes so much about us understanding that type of opposition and that type of game.
Armas highlighted that the Red Bulls pressing, counter-pressing and spacing as important tactically in this match.
This past week, Toronto FC lost in the quarterfinals of the COCNACAF Champions League to Cruz Azul.