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New York Red Bulls coach Chris Armas dishes on major league trash talkers

With smack-talking Zlatan coming to town, Red Bulls defenders say they will just play their game.

New York Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

HANOVER, N.J. — Chris Armas has dealt with his share of major league trash talkers in his storied career as one of Major League Soccer’s top defensive midfielders.

There was hard-tackling Dema Kovalenko and Sports Illustrated cover boy Clint Mathis and especially Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the Mexican legend who played three seasons for the Chicago Fire.

“They were edgy at times and when I played with Blanco and against him, it was very different,” the New York Red Bulls coach said after training Thursday. “I loved him, I hated him. He was a guy that, because he was such a competitor and he had passion and a will to win that was strong, when you played against him there’s nothing he wouldn’t do. And then you got to really appreciate him when we became teammates. I had such a different perspective.”

Armas said the same was true of Clint Dempsey, who he had some run-ins against when “Deuce” was a member of the New England Revolution early in his career.

“Me and him always had some words if I was close enough to him on the field. But it wasn’t too much,” Armas said. “This is what makes these guys great, that there’s moments where maybe it’s looking for an edge or something doesn’t go the right way, they’re coming at you.”

Armas said the best of the best in the sport, players like former Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the LA Galaxy, play on the edge — they are ultra competitors always looking for any advantage they can garner.

The same was true of Michael Jordan, who he considers the best basketball player of all time, a debate he jokes is constantly being waged inside the Red Bulls training facility.

“What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? It’s goalscorer, winner, champion,” he said of Henry and Ibrahimovic. “I think when we talk about some of the world’s greatest, we should focus on what they mean to our sport, and the contributions they give to our sport.”

As for Ibrahimovic’s penchant to talk smack on the field, it might have gotten to Real Salt Lake defender Nedum Onuoha, who blasted the Galaxy forward for “complete thug” actions and declined an extended apology in the visitors locker room after the Galaxy defeated RSL 2-1 on Sunday. The Red Bulls host the Galaxy this weekend, but the defenders aren’t too concerned.

“Honestly there’s no tactics from my end in trash talk or anything like that,” center back Aaron Long said. “I’m just gonna go out there and play.”

“I never pay attention to it,” added Tim Parker, who admitted all he heard from Ibrahimovic during last year’s Red Bulls’ 3-2 win in Carson were complaints to the officials and his teammates. “I’m not a talker. It’s just not my thing.”

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