Former Rough Rider Chris Armas Named Colorado Rapids Head Coach

Written by Micahel Lewis, Front Row Soccer


Chris Armas is back in the saddle again – the coaching saddle.

The former Long Island Rough Riders standout and MLS head coach has been named head coach of the Colorado Rapids.

Armas, 51, most recently was an assistant coach and interim head coach with Leeds United in England under Jesse Marsch, before the latter was sacked in January.

“We’re delighted to begin a new chapter at the Colorado Rapids with Chris as our head coach,” Rapids president Pádraig Smith said in a statement. “Chris brings a wealth of experience across the highest levels of the game, both as a player and as a coach. He is a natural leader who demands the highest standards from his players and understands what it takes to build a positive, and winning culture. We believe he has the personal qualities, experience and shared vision to help us achieve the success we seek.”

Armas played with the Rough Riders in their first two seasons in 1994 and 1995 and was an integral part of the team’s U.S. Interregional Soccer League championship in the later campaign.

This past summer, Armas attended a Rough Riders’ training session just prior to the playoffs and spoke to the USL League Two team.

“He spoke to the boys for 20-30 minutes and shared his experiences,” Rough Riders head coach Tom Bowen said. “He’s such a good guy. He gave up his time. He bought his old Rough Rider shirts to show them with the Armas number four on the back from years and years ago to show the lads that like he was sitting their seat at one point. Obviously, slightly different circumstances with the team being fully pro but he sat where they were and wore the same shirt them and then went on to have obviously a fantastic career.

“He just gave up his time. He answered questions for the boys. He was sharing the experiences about training habits of players like Cristiano Ronaldo, etc. on Manchester United. The boys had the opportunity to listen to like someone who’s been on the inside of Manchester United and seen Cristiano Ronaldo train on a daily basis. It’s just invaluable.”

Armas was an assistant coach at ManU from December 2021 to May 2022.

“He allowed the boys some time at the end to ask any questions they had,” Bowen said. “Some of them jumped and asked about his time at Leeds, like, what makes a good captain in Liam Cooper. Things like that. He was super generous with his time.

“Surprisingly to me, we were training late at night, and I thought, he probably was going to go home. He sat and watched the entire training session for another hour and a half, two hours. He was there 11:30 p.m. at night.”

Armas succeeded Marsch as Red Bulls coach midway through the 2018 campaign and guided the team until he was fired late in the 2020 season.

There is little doubt that Armas will be faced with a major challenge. He will be charged with turning around the fortunes of the second-worst team in the league. The Rapids finished at the bottom of the Western Conference with a horrible 5-17-12 record and only 27 points. Colorado fired head coach Robin Fraser in September.

“I’m incredibly proud and excited to take the role as the head coach of the Colorado Rapids,” Armas said in a statement. “This is a club that has had success in the recent past and KSE is an organization that has a strong track record of winning championships. Throughout the process I was struck by the desire of the organization to return to the playoffs and compete for trophies. I’m as hungry as ever to deliver this success to our fans and our club.

“I’ve always been eager to implement my style of play at a club that plays and trains at altitude. This advantage, along with high energy, attacking and entertaining football, can help our team and fans return to home field dominance. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to take the reins and to work with the entire staff to get the club back into the playoffs and ultimately to bring another MLS Cup to Colorado.”

A Brentwood, N.Y. native, Armas was as Fire assistant coach for a year before guiding the Adelphi University women’s team at his alma mater. He became an assistant coach under Marsch with the Red Bulls in 2015 and after his colleague left to coach RB Leipzig in Germany in 2018. The Red Bulls captured the Supporters’ Shield that year.

In January 2021, Armas was named Toronto FC head coach, but never got an opportunity to finish the season as he was given the pink slip that July 4 after a 7-1 loss to D.C. United. Armas had a three-year contract.

He noted that Canadian-based sports teams could not travel back and forth between the two countries due to the pandemic. So, Toronto FC essentially was on one long road trip, calling Orlando, Fla. home, without friends, family and loved ones.

The Brentwood, N.Y. native admitted that he did see that sacking coming. Toronto was 1-8-2 at the time.

“That was almost stunning,” he said. “Which coach would get nine games, none at home. It was a COVID situation. This was for me was really disappointing. There was work to do as Bob Bradley saw. He made lots of the changes that I also understood needed to happen.”

Bradley, who replaced Armas as head coach in November 2021, was given the pink slip by Toronto FC on June 23. It should be noted that Toronto FC has been one of the most volatile MLS franchises when it comes to replacing head coaches. Since its 2007 expansion season, the team has employed 10 head coaches and three interim head coaches.

Armas had signed a three-year contract,

“Why in the world, with a roster that needs turnover?” he asked about a team and a roster that he inherited that needed turnover. “This is the end of the cycle. This is what my message was like coming in. We understood exactly where they’re at with that roster. It was at the end of that cycle.”

Some players, such as former USMNT forward Jozy Altidore were not producing. The quality of the roster was not up to snuff.

“Some of the young guys coming through were very, very young at the time,” Armas said. “I think we can see now that that definitely was the case. … Lots of things that were not operating to par. Sometimes you’ve got to change the players, sometimes you and got to change the manager. Nine games in, it was stunning.”

Armas was an assistant coach under interim head coach Ralf Rangnick during a six-month stint at Manchester United that ended in May 2022.

On Jan. 25 of this year, Armas joined Marsch as his assistant with Leeds. Twelve days later on Feb. 6, Marsch was sacked, leaving Armas in a lame duck role. Fifteen days later on Feb. 21, Leeds hired Javi Garcia as the new manager.

That’s how crazy hirings and firings on EPL clubs can be.

“I wasn’t stunned, but I was surprised because in that world and in that business, things change quickly,” Armas told earlier this year. “I had a contract coming in. I knew how much they wanted me to come help Jesse. That was very genuine. But in that league, things can turn quickly when decisions are made from the top, the very top if they say they want to change. The change happens despite some of the strategic moves that the sporting directors were doing to try to bolster the team.

Armas forged a decorated career as one of the best, if not finest, defensive midfielders of his era. He played a dozen years with the LA Galaxy and Chicago Fire before retiring in 2007. He was a member of an MLS Cup champion (1998), a Supporters’ Shield winner (2003) and four Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups (1998, 2000, 2003, 2006).

He performed in the MLS All-Star game six times (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004) and is one of only five players in league history to have been named to the MLS Best XI five times (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003).

Armas played 66 times for the U.S. men’s national team during his playing career, winning two Concacaf Gold Cups (2002, 2005). He also was selected as the U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year in 2000.


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