BRONX, N.Y. — The disappointment is there, but so too was the comfort for Chris Armas, who made his debut as New York Red Bulls coach in a 1-0 Hudson River Derby loss to New York City FC Sunday night at Yankee Stadium.
His previous trips back to the borough he was born in was as a Red Bulls assistant coach under Jesse Marsch. This time, though, the responsibilities were different.
Armas was the one wearing the suit.
He was the one in the technical area.
He was the one making the calls.
“In the role of head coach on the day it’s a bit different,” said Armas, who assumed the role on Friday after Marsch left to pursue opportunities in Europe. “But I’ve been in this building before, I’ve been on that sideline before, I was making decisions before. It largely felt comfortable.”
And when the game was over, and the Red Bulls three-game winning streak came to an end against their biggest rivals, Armas was the one answering questions from the press.
One of the biggest inquiries was why wait until the 88th minute to make his first substitution?
“We thought at 0-0 we’re making a good push and if I have to make a change early in the first half I would do it,” Armas said. “At that point, we didn’t think the change was needed. We were pushing the game in a good way and felt like a goal was coming. When you look at the attacking options you had, the guys on the field are performing well so why would you change anything?”
“I thought he played great today. I thought he had energy,” Armas said of Muyl. “Thinking about what type of game this was going to be, it’s almost like he could be the first guy you think about starting — second balls, combative. I don’t know, New York City one of their last games had 700 passes. How many did they have today? Maybe 300, 350? I thought it was an easy selection. I thought we got that one right and I thought he had a good game.”
And the choice of Lade over Murillo, who was the first-choice right back before competing for Panama at the World Cup?
“Amir, we think highly of him, he’s obviously a good player, just came from the World Cup with Panama obviously and got some great experience there. Meanwhile Connor Lade stepped in and has been sharp,” Armas said. “Before Connor Lade’s injury a couple of years ago, he was one of our better performers and he looks more like that form right now. It wasn’t an easy one, that one.”
Armas also backed Aaron Long, whose mistake late allowed NYCFC to claim all three points.
“Aaron I think is going to be a national team player,” Armas said. “People are starting to realize that and game in and game out, he’s tasked with a big one, to deal with clever forwards, fast forwards, guys tonight who dip underneath. He keeps getting better, keeps improving, he’s a competitor, he’s a winner, we’re lucky to have Aaron.
He puts out so many fires for our team that most times you just appreciate the work he does and even tonight. He was solid.”
Armas said players work to get better every training session and the same is true of coaches. But his first few days in charge of the Red Bulls were more about establishing himself in a new role after spending the last three-and-a-half years as an assistant coach.
“In the last few days, it wasn’t really about a learning experience for me,” Armas said. “It was about getting hold of the team and stepping into a leadership and establishing myself in a different way with the players. In the last few days I realized that I’m real comfortable in that spot.”