"Going to Give 100% Every Single Day": Chris Armas Is Ready to Deliver for the Rapids
Pádraig Smith sat in the car in his driveway, dialing his Sporting Director, Fran Taylor, about news he'd just heard on the drive home. Chris Armas had just been let go from the technical staff at New York Red Bulls, and Smith wanted him on Colorado's sideline.
"'We should do anything and everything we can to get Chris Armas as an assistant coach right now'," he told him.
Amongst the tribulations and triumphs of the Rapids' 2020 season, Smith knew the team was still lacking something important, something he believed Armas could provide: a clear sense of how to create chances from the press, and in coordination, taking advantage of the altitude the Rapids played at nearly every day in Colorado.
Armas' high-press, high-energy philosophy inherited from Jesse Marsch at Red Bulls was something the Rapids' president believed could integrate with the Rapids' philosophy, and one fellow midfielder Sacha Kljestan remembers having conversations with Armas about in his days at Red Bull Arena.
"The conversations I always had with him when he was the assistant coach...we all wish that there was a little bit more focus on when a team sat back and you had to have possession, trying to find more soccer ideas to try to break down the opponents, and I think that's where Chris, given the opportunity, can have this cohesion between a high press, win the ball back and attack as fast as possible, but in different moments of the game, manage the game as well through possession," the former midfielder said. "Chris was a very good possession player as well, and he was a thinker."
There's a reason DICK'S Sporting Goods Park is one of opponents' least favorite stadiums to play in: the altitude at which it stands. At a mile above sea level, the atmosphere sucks the air from the lungs, leaving players doubled over, searching for oxygen. Combining a top level of fitness from a Colorado-based side with a high-pressing attack and it's quick to see how opponents become breathless before the whistle blows for halftime.
The ability to wear visiting teams down with a high-press style accentuated by the effects of altitude, force turnovers and then hold possession to drive toward goal is the vision Smith and Armas have for 2024 and beyond.
This style of play is one not every player is accustomed to, including first-year center back Moïse Bombito. While the young Canadian international admitted to not having a past coach that enforced the high-press method, his athletic performances in 2023 for the club and country showcased his ability to fit into the mold while embracing the challenges faced on the backline.
"For us to be able to cover the depth and just be able to do those recovery runs I think that's going to be a challenge but we're up for it because I think we're really strong in the back," the defender said. "It's going to be interesting."
Bombito, a 2022 first-round SuperDraft pick, is a young player Armas has his eye on, and he's not the only one. Homegrowns like Cole Bassett, Darren Yapi and Sam Vines embody the importance of developing young players to their full potential-Armas saw it with U.S. Men's National Team regular and recent A.F.C Bournemouth signing Tyler Adams at Red Bulls.
"In New York I had the privilege to work with young guys so I understand what goes into coaching young guys," he said. "The message to them that it's not going to be easy, it's tough. It's tough to break in but you start developing their mentality and their leadership at young ages. And in Colorado you see it with Cole Bassett, in the past Sam Vines...this is what coaches want to work with, it's the type that I want to work with."
"Of course, we need quality sprinkled into that team, but the young guys give you energy, and I'm excited for that young group that we have."
Along with developing the young talent already in the Rapids' ecosystem, including the Academy and Rapids 2, the Rapids currently hold four first-round picks in the 2023 SuperDraft, accumulated through deals made this season. Smith and Armas are joined in the pursuit of high-level talent identification.
"If we get players that can play with intensity, and that are naturally aggressive, we nurture that," Armas said. "We find players with personality, find players that have real mentality-mentality monsters- that can rise when things get tough."
"I will say with confidence that I know I'm most prepared now for a head coaching opportunity than I've ever been."
After over three decades playing and coaching, Armas makes the declaration with complete resolve.
But those three decades were not without trials faced, especially when leading from the sidelines. In the last four years, Armas has coached both at home and abroad, including stints at Toronto FC, and English Premier League teams such as Manchester United and Leeds United. While those positions didn't yield the successes he strived for, they provided an important lesson for Armas to embody the confidence he has now.
"You learn about yourself," he remarked. "How do you hold up in tough situations? How do you stand tall in front of the team? How do you coach big players, big marquee DPs on that team? How do you push a team when we face adversity each and every day, to come with the energy, to come with the right mentality? I learned how to stand tall and take responsibility in a real way."
The leadership shown at all levels, from college to Premier League, is partly borne from surrounding himself with high-level professionals, including coaches like Marsch and Ralf Rangnick, but also players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Maguire and Adams.
But perhaps the most important ingredient to Armas' potential success as a leader of the Rapids isn't just through enforcement of a playing style or a well-organized locker room, but through building a culture of trust, work ethic, and personability.
The head coach recently visited his new stomping grounds for the first time-a quick in-and-out trip to Colorado where he got a feel for what it will be like to join the MLS original.
What stood out during this visit can be summed up in one word: intentionality.
It was seen in quick glances-like asking for clarification on whether to refer to the Rapids' supporters' group as Centennial 38 or their shortened moniker, C38.
"This is important, I want to get this right," he insisted as he prepared to record a statement to the Rapids faithful. Before the Long Island native has officially signed on the dotted line, he's discussing his interest in the group's Man of the Match oar tradition, the massive impact the fanbase provides to Colorado's already difficult home-field advantage, and asking when he'll be able to meet the individuals that fill the stands of DSGP.
The personable approach spills over into the way he's led teams in the past, even as an assistant. Two things stood out to Kljestan during their overlapping time in New York:
"He was there every day after training," he recalled. "He would challenge guys a lot-whether that was just playing a two-touch juggling competition, one-against-one, very competitive to try to raise the level of everybody around him. So that was one. The other thing is that he just cares about everybody, and he always tried to make it feel like we were a family."
"A lot of clubs want to say [they're a family] but from Chris, I've always felt that... One thing I can be sure of is that Chris is going to give 100% every single day to try to make the club better."
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