HARRISON, N.J. — The putrid odor that has been wafting into Red Bull Arena from Keegan Landfill in nearby Kearny wasn’t present Saturday night.
The urgency and execution were missing, the team looked tired and disjointed in the second half and the final result left some fans so frustrated they began to publicly call for coach Chris Armas’ firing.
It was just a hashtag on social media before it reverberated throughout Red Bull Arena for the first time Saturday night.
Armas said he didn’t hear it and wasn’t aware until informed in the hallway outside the Red Bulls locker room after the game.
“They paid money to see us play,” Armas said. “I’d be pissed off too if watched that performance tonight.”
Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles heard the chant during the late stages of the game. He expressed a similar sentiment, that the fans have the right to express their frustration. But in the empty locker room afterward, the captain backed his coach.
“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 said the blame should be pointed inward at the players who share his locker room and not at the coach.
“At a certain point as players, we have to look at ourselves, right? He wasn’t the one that didn’t set up the marking properly on the first goal, we let that slip,” Robles said. “Everyone went to goal and all of a sudden Jonathan Lewis makes a Messi-like run and scores a goal.
“And the second one, all week he’s telling us how we want to play and we have to come back into the game, and we have to step up and confine pressing. He’s drilling us in how we want to play and then we don’t go out into the field and play that way.”
Home not-so-sweet home
Saturday’s defeat was the Red Bulls’ fifth at Red Bull Arena. That is tied with the New England Revolution for the most home defeats of any team in a playoff position, more than the past two years combined and the most in a single season since Red Bull Arena opened in 2010.
For Robles, dropping 19 points from five defeats and two draws at home is the most frustrating aspect of a maddening mediocre season.
“I’ve been here since 2012, I’ve played a lot of games in this arena and won a lot of games,” Robles said. “It just feels every time we play here we can expect three points and then you look at 2019 and that just hasn’t been the case.”
Howard’s happy homecoming
One player who didn’t leave Red Bull Arena angry and frustrated was Tim Howard. He said leading up that the final game in his home state was one he circled after Howard announced he was retiring at season’s end.
Three points and a clean sheet was about the best gift Howard, who played for the club when it was known as the MetroStars, could have received — one can argue it was gift-wrapped by the Red Bulls.
“This is where it all began. It’s a special place for me,” Howard said. “I try and come into the game and feel like it’s just another game. This is obviously special because I’m at home, but it was good to be here. I heard some nice things from the crowds, not so nice things, but that’s what I expected. I’m cognizant of the finish line.”
Howard also heard the boos rain down after the final whistle and wasn’t surprised from a fanbase he called both “brilliant” and “crazy.”
“This is one of the best places to play soccer. It’s a fanbase that’s hungry for success and has been brilliant,” Howard said. “They were brilliant when I first started and it’s no different today. But again, New York-New Jersey sports fans are crazy. They want nothing but the best and nothing but success and when they don’t have that, it’s hard. I’m a Knicks fan and a Giants fan, so it’s not easy.”