Armas quietly fills role for US Soccer

Wednesday, August 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Only those truly in the soccer know could identify the most important man in American soccer at the moment. But more may know him know soon, due to his absence.

Chris Armas isn't one of the Americans who have moved across the water seeking European glory. And he isn't a high scoring forward, a creative midfielder with a penchant for pretty passes or a highly visible goalkeeper backstopping a sometimes-dicey defense.

But, quietly, Armas has indeed become an indispensable U.S. national team mainstay. He's a work-a-day as a defensive central midfielder, playing in front of the back line. His job is to be a human train wreck, breaking up attacks before they gain momentum. Then, he turns into a distributor, ushering the ball to one of the team's creators.

His job, which demands a rare and delicate balance of tenacity and technique, is hardly covered with joy. But he has slowly gained recognition as the best at his position in the MLS, usurping that moniker from Leonel Alvarez, who is 35 and can't cover as much ground as he once could.

How good is Armas at the job? It isn't just U.S. national coach Bruce Arena who needs him. Olympic coach Clive Charles last week chose Armas, 27, as one of three "overaged" players on the roster (the Olympic Tournament is for under-23 players, with three exceptions).

And Armas' health and good form will go far in deciding the Chicago Fire's upcoming playoff fate. He is the only player currently involved in the four major competitions of U.S. Soccer: the MLS season, the U.S. Open Cup, World Cup qualifying tournament and Olympic Games. That's why supporters and fans of three different coaches are quite concerned now.

Armas has a medial collateral ligament sprain on his left knee. It happened last week as the United States re-established itself in the World Cup qualifying race with a 7-0 win over Barbados. Armas took a vicious kick in the knee and left the game immediately.

"I'm no doctor, but we're hopeful that it's a slight sprain," Arena said. "Hopefully he can be back in three weeks. That would be the conservative estimate. He could be out six weeks, nine weeks, 12 weeks."

As for the Olympics, Charles' team leaves for Australia on Sept. 6.

John O'Brien, now playing for Amsterdam's Ajax in the Dutch league, replaced Armas against Barbados for the national team. He could fill the role for Arena's national team, or it could return to the same unstable rotation that consumed it before Armas stamped his name on the position.

Open Cup play

Chicago and Los Angeles play Wednesday at Titan Stadium in Fullerton, Calif., in the first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal. It could be physical, coming just four days after the same teams played a rugged match in Chicago, one that saw the Galaxy's Robin Fraser ejected for a nasty tackle.

Miami and the MetroStars play on Sept. 12 in the second semifinal at a venue to be determined. Both semifinal matches will be televised live on Fox Sports World and Fox Sports World Español. The final is Oct. 22.

Charles in charge

Olympic coach Clive Charles is being criticized around the country for being overly loyal to certain players in his selection of the U.S. team. Specifically, Charles stuck with defender Brian Dunseth, who was recently benched at New England. He passed over players such as MLS Rookie of the Year candidate Nick Garcia (originally from Dallas) and Chicago's always-composed Carlos Bocanegra.

Charles also selected Conor Casey, who is the only collegian on the roster, and happens to play at Portland, where Charles remains the head coach. Charles passed over Sasha Victorine, a valuable rookie for Los Angeles.

Briefly ...

Richardson native Carla Overbeck started her first game since coming back from knee surgery last week as the U.S. women drew with Russia, 1-1, in a closed scrimmage. Joy Fawcett scored the lone U.S. goal on a penalty kick.

World soccer remains buzzing over Brazil's 3-0 loss at Chile last week in World Cup qualifying, the four-time world champions' second loss in as many months. Remember, the Brazilians had lost just once previously in all World Cup qualifying games, in Bolivia in 1993.

U.S. Soccer says it has sold more than 38,000 tickets for the United States' important Sept. 3 World Cup qualifier against Guatemala at Washington's RFK Stadium. The Oct. 11 match against Costa Rica at 22,000-seat Crew Stadium in Columbus is near a sellout.