HARRISON, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls fan base is frustrated with the way things have been going this season, so much so that things reached a boiling point on Saturday when the supporters turned on head coach Chris Armas.
The Red Bulls suffered their latest disappointing defeat of the year on Saturday night, falling at the hands of the lowly Colorado Rapids at Red Bull Arena. The 2-0 loss on its own was aggravating given how disjointed the Red Bulls looked and how poorly they played against one of the league’s worst teams, but what made matters worse was that it marked a club record fifth league defeat at home in regular season play.
For the fans in attendance, the setback was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The South Ward, made up of the Red Bulls’ supporters’ groups, faintly began to sing “Fire Chris Armas” in the first half after Jonathan Lewis scored the opener in the 14th minute, but the vitriol hit another level after Lewis put the game on ice three minutes from time.
Almost immediately, chants of “Armas out!” rained down on the field. “Fire Armas!” followed a couple minutes later. Then, at the full time whistle, a chorus of boos.
“They’re not happy,” said Armas. “They shouldn’t be, so who do you take it out on? They don’t take it out on each other, they love the players, so they blame the person in charge. It’s fair. It’s fair. Is that the best thing for the players and the coaches to hear? That doesn’t help but they’re frustrated and that comes with it.
“They support us and they come and they’re entitled to be frustrated and voice their opinion. It won’t change the way we’re working, but yeah that’s part of it.”
Armas may not have been too fazed by the public outcry, but the frustration was evident. A team that has never lost more than three times in one regular season since Red Bull Arena opened in 2010, New York has now dropped points in seven (five losses, two draws) of 15 matches at home this season. What was once a self-described fortress has transformed into a rickety cardboard box.
That inconsistency appears to be affecting more than just the fans, too. Not only did a visibly frustrated Cristian Casseres hurl a water bottle at the Red Bulls’ empty bench post-game after Armas stopped him from going into the locker room and instructed the midfielder to acknowledge the fans with the rest of his teammates per the club’s tradition, but there were only a handful of players left in the locker room to speak with the media on Saturday night.
“I’ll take a hard look at what I’m doing,” said Armas unprompted at the start of his press conference. “To put out a team tonight that I thought — we didn’t have the urgency, the execution, and the desire to win that game. It’s on me and I’m going to get it right, but there’s five games left in the year. The most important ones are ahead. We’ll find out who we are.”
While Armas was Public Enemy No. 1 as far as the fans were concerned on Saturday, Red Bulls captain Luis Robles came to the defense of his manager and stated the responsibility lied with the players rather than their coach. Robles even said some introspection was needed by the entire squad after another uneven display.
What’s more, Robles questioned whether some players on the team were dedicated enough to the overall objectives.
“I don’t think he’s at fault for it,” said Robles of Armas. “I think at a certain point as players we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and really ask ourselves, ‘Are we really committed to the cause? Are we doing everything that we can?’ and only we can answer that.
“I think we’re at that inflection point. We have a bit of a break, some guys are gone with their national teams and I hope they have a great trip, but when they come back I really hope that as a team collectively we can all take a look in the mirror and ask ourselves are we fully committed to what it is that we’re doing here.”
Whether that would be enough to salvage the troubled season and repair Armas’ damaged relationship with the supporters is unclear. The Red Bulls’ boss is, however, only concerning himself with the former task. He knows time is running short in the season, and that it is imperative to make stark improvement pronto.
Otherwise, scenes like Saturday’s may become more frequent.
“I didn’t even hear it. I was told in the hallway walking through (after the match),” said Armas of the chants. “My kids read stuff. They tell me different things along the way. I don’t get caught up with what people think. I was starting for the U.S. national team and people said, ‘Why is Chris Armas starting for the national team?’ You can’t let that affect you.
“I think the big thing is that — I understand. It’s part of it. They paid money to come see us play. I’d be pissed off too if I watched that performance tonight.”