Off-the-wall Questions and Answers, Queries and Anecdotes from U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Chris Armas.
Chris Armashad a tough year. He was flying high in early May, having helped the U.S. qualify for the World Cup back in October 2001 and with a chance to play on the world’s biggest stage less than a month away. But then it happened. A routine planting of the leg during a 2-1 win over Uruguay sent him to the ground in pain, and everyone inside RFK Stadium felt it. Not just the pain of the injury, but the pain of knowing right then and there that he would be stuck at home on crutches when the team went on to Korea. He spent the rest of the year limping along the long road to recovery, but things are looking up as 2003 nears and it appears that the Brentwood, N.Y., native will be back with the team soon enough. In fact, he just might join the team (on a strictly re-habilitatory basis) when they gather at the IMG Academy in Brandenton, Fla., before the Jan. 18 friendly versus Canada at Lockhart Stadium.
Center Circle: First of all, how’s rehab going?
Chris Armas: "At this point, it's going very well. Initially, there was a setback with a staph infection about six months ago, but now I feel strong and very close to playing again. Obviously, I'm very excited."
CC: What's the one thing that has helped you get through your current rehabilitation? Desire to return to the National Team? Support from family and friends?
CA: "A lot of things, really. From a physical standpoint, the main thing that helps you get through is hard work and progress. The motivation comes from really wanting to get back on the field. The game you love was taken away from you, and you desperately want to get back. This has been unlike any other injury I've ever had, in the sense that you have to wait a few weeks to see any results from the rehab. It's certainly been a mental challenge, and it really tests you. I couldn't have done it without my unbelievably supportive wife Justine. From the time of surgery, through the infection, she really helped me believe in myself. I've also had great support from the Chicago Fire, and many other people in clinics in Chicago and New York."
CC:Do you feel snake-bit at all having missed the World Cup just two years after missing the 2000 Olympics with a similar injury?
CA: "I feel the timing was bad, but I don't believe in luck, good or bad. I believe you work hard and good things happen. If you look at my career, there were two big tournaments that I was close to being part of. Of course, any player would want those experiences under their belt. But you just accept that injuries are part of the sport, and keep a positive attitude. For sure, I'm not the only guy who's been hurt before and had to miss a World Cup. It's hard to explain what it does to you as a person. It took a chunk out of my heart for a while, sitting at home, injured and sick from the infection, knowing that a month before I was in the best shape of my life. But it's not too hard to look around and see the tragedies people suffer in regular life and realize you're not the only one out there. If nothing else, this experience is going to make me hungrier for everything else I go for in this sport."
CC: Was it too tough to watch the team in Korea, or were you right in the mix at say...Fado Irish Pub downtown with the rest of the Chicago diehards?
CA: "I watched every game of the World Cup that I could. Of course, I watched all the U.S. games live. I couldn't wait. The hard thing was my situation, because I was at home and still feeling pretty sick. Watching the games really gave me some life. The guys were great about keeping me up to date with what was going on. I got e-mails from guys like Landon (Donovan) and Brian (McBride), and Bruce (Arena) also sent me messages throughout the tournament. My usual roommate on the road, Josh Wolff, would call from the team bus, so I could hear Bruce talking about plans, the schedule, and things like that, and I felt like I was still part of things. During the Portugal game, Pam Perkins (the team's General Manager) called me when we scored the first goal. After the match, I got a call from the locker room and spoke to Cobi (Jones), Clint (Mathis), Brian, and a couple other guys. I wanted to be a part of it in the worst way, and to have the people on the team staying in touch meant a great deal."
CC: How surprised were you that the U.S. was up 3-1 at halftime against Portugal?
CA: "I was surprised at the score, but not surprised we could win that game. From our preparations beginning in May, I knew we'd come out with energy and put them under a lot of pressure. When we were up 3-0, it honestly didn't seem real. I was thinking that hopefully we would keep playing because it was early in the game and Portugal was a dangerous team. We kept playing hard and deserved to win. Everything fell into place for us that day. You could see the confidence build from that point, and that propelled the team all the way to the quarterfinals."
CC: What were your expectations for the team going into the World Cup? Did you ever think that the team would end up in the quarterfinals against a team like Germany?
CA: "Our approach was to take it game by game. You want to get out of the first round, and then take it as far as you can. As a player, you don't think about winning the tournament, going to the quarterfinals, or anything like that. It's so hard just to get out of the first round. As we saw, a lot of great teams don't make it. In our case, once we made it to single elimination, we got a good draw against Mexico. Sure, they could beat us, but we knew we could beat them, and that's the situation you want to get into."
CC: What did you think of the job Pablo Mastroeni and John O'Brien did in the defensive midfield spot?
CA: "They did a great job, as did the whole team. I thought the work of John and Pablo in the middle of the field were the key to a lot of those games. They were excellent at breaking up plays and keeping possession. Going into the tournament, we knew what J-O-B could do at the international level. He's got good feet and a good tactical mind. Pablo was really impressive at breaking up plays, winning balls, fouling, and doing all the things you need to do in that position. As a guy who plays that position, you look for the things that can go unnoticed, and I appreciated the things he did. In that spot, there's a lot of pressure and not a lot of time to think, and he did a fine job."
CC: What did you learn from or about your Fire teammates from sitting out for the majority of what turned out to be a very difficult season for the club?
CA: "I wouldn't say I learned anything, but I did get a different perspective being on the outside looking in. It was hard, because the team was in a slump, and that situation challenged me in other ways. It's frustrating to watch your team lose and not be able to do anything about it. When you're on the field, you can contribute in a direct way. Off the field, you have to think of things here and there to contribute, like saying things to certain guys at certain times. Our team had a tough year. If I had to say anything I learned, it's that we had a bunch of guys willing to fight to the end. There was one piece of the puzzle missing this year that didn't quite get us over the hump. It wasn't injuries alone that were the problem. I don't know what it was. Bob and all the guys tried to get after it, and in the end they left everything on the field. It was very frustrating."
CC: You've known Dave Sarachan as an assistant coach since your early days with the MNT. What will he bring to this team, either with his personality or his coaching methods?
CA: "One thing right off the bat is that it’s a fresh start for our team after a frustrating year. It’s a whole new beginning, and I think our team needs that. I’ve known Dave for a little while since we've worked together on the national team. The role of that position is different than a head coach, and I think we'll see a whole new side of him. He’s a great guy, and he’s a players’ coach. Having been a professional himself, he knows the needs of the players, and he's been around winning environments with D.C. United and the U.S. National Team. He's a very positive guy and I think he'll treat players fairly. Now, if he can just pick up Richie Williams and Mauricio Cienfuegos, I'll be the fifth tallest guy on the team."
CC: What do you expect out of the Fire next year, as far as key players and post-season aspirations?
CA: "I still believe that while we're going to have to make some changes, we have a good core group of guys. If we can bring in some players that can contribute, I don't see why we can't make a run at the championship. You have to be realistic, but at the same time we have a bunch of guys who are going to be hungry to get back to the championship. That's the mentality you have to have. We'll have a different look, but we'll deal with it."
CC: Can Bob Bradley turn the MetroStars into MLS champions in a couple years?
CA: "Yes. He's not going there to be mediocre. He's going to do what he needs day to day to make his team fit to win a championship. They will certainly be more organized, and he will bring a new mentality to that team. On paper, they look pretty good. I wouldn't be surprised if they have a great year."
CC: How’s the family? I'm sure they love having dad around rather than traveling all over the country, not to mention the world, with two different teams…
CA: "They’re great. I've had so much fun with Christopher, Jr. Despite it not being under the best of circumstances, Justine and I have had a lot of time together, which I've really enjoyed. As parents can tell you, there's nothing like having your own child. Right now we're on the way to meet Santa Claus."
CC: Has there been a worse winter in your five years in Chicago? This one has been nasty so far...
CA: "Since I’ve spent all my time in New York, I'd say it's been the easiest winter in Chicago."
CC: Any big plans for New Year's Eve?
CA: "The usual tradition of going to a friend's house out here, having dinner and playing with the kids. That's all I need."
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (And the Winner Is…)
2) In Threes (w/ WNT forward Shannon MacMillan)
3) All I Want for Christmas Is… (w/ NT Staff, Players)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ MNT midfielder Chris Armas)
5) Mark That Calendar (2002 Voting Deadlines)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ U-23 MNT forward Alecko Eskandarian)
7) FAN Point/Counterpoint (Best Soccer Moment of 2002)
8) "You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall)" (Chevy AOTY trivia)
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