Chris Armas’s New York Red Bulls are incredibly divisive. A short dive through the RBNY-Twittersphere makes that abundantly clear. For every failure the Red Bulls suffered this season, a growing number of fans have vented their frustration at the man in charge on the bench.
One of the largest points of contention recently centered Armas’s decision to bench Michael Murillo. Leading up to the decision, Murillo’s form tanked. Despite his offensive flourishes, his defensive accountability and lapses cost the team points game after game. For the second year in a row, Murillo’s form dipped during the transfer window.
Many speculate that his desires to move on from the Red Bulls played a part. Fan response indicated that Murillo’s poor form, and the team’s poor form, proved Armas a poor coach. The reasoning used went like this: Since Murillo previously performed well, Armas must be incapable of getting the best out of players.
While that thinking logically ignores Murillo’s strong play after a similar benching last summer during the opening of Chris Armas’s tenure as Red Bulls head coach, it also serves to throw down a measurable gauntlet by the fan base. If a player isn’t performing, or is losing focus, the coach should not play him. In this case, Armas decided to bench the problematic player.
In D.C., Murillo returned to the starting lineup for the first time in three matches. His play on the night showed renewed commitment and accountability. The gut reaction for fans might be to say, “That’s why he should be starting all the time.” In one sense, I agree with that assessment. Murillo, when focused, is easily one of the best right backs in MLS. But his renewed focus does not materialize, in my opinion, without the strong message sent by Chris Armas.
During Murillo’s time off the field, Rece Buckmaster slotted into the starting lineup. His play lacked refinement, but showed promise. Buckmaster, the victim of inexperience, did slip up at times in matches, but his overall resume thus far shows value. While Buckmaster made mistakes at inopportune times and the Red Bulls were punished, he also shut down Diego Rossi playing at LAFC, earned a shutout victory in his first start, and the Red Bulls are 2-1-1 during matches he starts.
There are plenty of matches remaining this season, and the long term gains of Murillo’s benching are still unknown. But it is clear that in D.C. Wednesday night, Murillo looked like a changed man. If Chris Armas is to shoulder the burden of players failures, he should get credit for their success as well.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography