Welcome to Fire20, our weekly series celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club by making deep dives into the team’s history. This week we look back at Ring of Fire member Chris Armas.
The Chicago Fire are on the rise this season, but it's been a long time since they were a perennial Eastern Conference powerhouse. The struggles of recent seasons have overshadowed happier times, times when true leaders were an integral part of this club. One player that truly stands out as one of the greatest Men in Red of all time, and who genuinely embodied the character of those teams, is Chris Armas.
Chris Armas joined the Chicago Fire at the beginning of their inaugural season. He was a 24-year-old kid that had played a few solid seasons for the LA Galaxy before arriving in Illinois. While the Fire brought in a lot of different players from different nations and backgrounds, Armas was part of the essential core that held the team together. His first season here was obviously a success, ending with him lifting the trophy at the Rose Bowl, the stadium he called home just a season prior.
The success would continue for Chris and the Fire, as he would add a Supporters’ Shield, two U.S. Open Cups, four MLS All-Star Team nominations and four MLS Best XI nods all before 2002, while also being a mainstay in the USMNT team.
However, there’s a specific date that began the process of how Chris Armas became an absolute legend. That date is May 12th, 2002.
May 12th, 2002 was the day that Chris Armas tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament in his right knee. He was playing in a friendly prior to the 2002 World Cup, and a non-contact injury forced him to the ground, ending his dreams of playing in a World Cup match.
This was actually the second time Armas had missed a major competition due to injury — in 2000, he missed out on the Olympics due to an injury to his other knee. To me, the ACL injury in 2002 defined his career. Not because he missed the World Cup, and not because the injury derailed his career. But because in true Chris Armas fashion, he battled back from adversity and overcame every subsequent obstacle in his path.
2002 was a mostly lost season due to the ACL recovery, but Armas was nowhere near done writing his story. Re-energized and ready to lead the Fire again, 2003 became a magical season. The Fire finished the regular season 1st in the Eastern Conference, and Chris featured in 25 matches. Having already cemented as a Fire hero, Armas added to his impeccable resume on a November night at Soldier Field. In a Eastern Conference Final match the Fire dominated, they seemingly couldn't solve the Revs defense and keeper Adin Brown. However, late into the 2nd OT period, a one touch pass in front of the net found Chris Armas's right foot, and he guided it into the back of the net, sending the Chicago Fire to the MLS Cup Final as Eastern Conference Champions. Chris had completed a miraculous comeback from a devastating injury, and lifted the Fire back to winning times again.
From the way his teammates and coaches speak about him, to the fond memories shared by Fire supporters, it's easy to see why Chris Armas will always be remembered as a Fire hero. In a tribute video made by MLS to Armas, former teammate and fellow Ring of Fire member C.J. Brown remarked, “I don’t think anyone has more passion or drive or commitment to the game than [Armas] does,” and Logan Pause called him “the driving engine of [the Fire]” during his time with the club.
All things considered, Chris Armas ended his Fire career in 2007 as a legend. At his retirement press conference, the entire team was in attendance to see off their fearless leader. He still remains fourth all-time in Fire appearances (214) and minutes played (19,018), and second all-time in assists, with 42.
As we continue this season of Fire20, we can only hope future players bring the intensity, passion and quality to the Chicago Fire that Chris Armas did.