New year, new coach.
Chris Armas was appointed head coach by Toronto FC on last Wednesday, becoming the 10th manager in the team’s history – the first coaching change since 2014.
Club president Bill Manning described Armas as “the perfect fit” during last Thursday’s online press conference.
“Chris Armas as a player, as an assistant, as a college coach and more recently as a head coach, is a winner. That was the most important ingredient for us.”
General Manager Ali Curtis agrees.
“This was a vast, exhausting and methodic search,” said Curtis at the same online press conference. “We viewed international, domestic, various levels of experience. Lots of research, comprehensive analysis. Chris was at the top of the charts. He was excellent.”
The 48-year-old Bronx, N.Y., native, who played over 300 games for the L.A. Galaxy and Chicago Fire combined, started 66 caps for the U.S Men’s National Team (USMNT), and has the mission of taking over after a successful seven-season run led by Greg Vanney.
But can Armas keep Toronto FC contending for the MLS Cup – won by the club in 2017 – year after year?
The Toronto Observer spoke to two New York Red Bulls reporters to get some answers about his playing style, strengths, weaknesses and years on his former club.
Mark Fishkin, a host for The Seeing Red Podcast, a show that has covered the New York Red Bulls (RBNY) since 2010, believes fans are torn about Armas.
The former RBNY coach took over in July of 2018 after previous head coach Jesse Marsch joined RB Leipzig as an assistant – a German club owned by the same company.
Armas led them to the 2018 Supporters’ Shield, but a tough loss in the Conference Finals that year hurt the overall perception of his campaign.
“He improved on Marsch’s record during 2018’s second half run to the Shield, though New York was less explosive offensively and tighter in the back, making for closer matches,” said Fishkin in an email statement.
“His decision not to press Atlanta in the 2018 Eastern Finals first leg away was a major factor in New York’s 0-3 loss in that match.”
Fishkin notes that Armas had less talent in 2019 and 2020, but back-to-back sixth-place finishes, after setting a regular-season points record in 2018, keeps Armas from joining Marsch as the most effective RBNY coaches, he says.
“Armas’ strengths include willingness to give young players a chance, and his second-half substitution selections, which often worked out well,” said Fishkin.
When it comes to weaknesses, he notes that given how the team improved with his departure in September 2020, it was clear that he had lost the locker room.
That does not mean, however, that Armas can’t connect with his players.
In fact, according to Sylvana Budesheim, a North American Soccer Reporters member and New York Red Bulls reporter for Switch the Pitch Socccer.com, it’s quite the opposite.
“Every player I’ve spoken to about Chris says that he is a player’s coach. They would run through a wall for him. They get respect and a sense of family with him,” said Budesheim via email.
Budesheim believes Armas will do well if he decides to keep TFC’s way of playing under Vanney, keeping possession of the ball and rotating it while waiting for the best opportunity to score.
“He did utilize (the possession style) with RBNY despite that not being a key to the high press style the team was made for.
“The team expected to maintain that high press they had under Jesse Marsch, but Armas seemed to have the team sit back and go wide without consistent finishers in the middle. It just didn’t work.”
The new Toronto FC head coach has been known for changing the team’s narrative up at times, however, according to Fishkin.
“RBNY has a very distinct style of play with its high press. Armas spent most of his tenure trying to develop an effective “plan B” to deal with opponents effectively bypassing the press with long diagonals out of the back. He was only moderately successful,” he said.
Toronto FC fans will have to wait to see Armas’ team in action, as the league is yet to announce plans for the 2021 season calendar.