Another injury sidelines Chris Armas


CHICAGO (AP) – To call Chris Armas unlucky doesn’t come close to describing how cruel fate has been.

Twice already he’s been weeks away from representing the United States in soccer’s biggest international events, only to get hurt. Now, as the U.S. team prepares for what is likely Armas’ last chance at a World Cup, he’s recovering from an injury that will probably leave him on the sidelines once again.

“It hurts right now, not getting named to the team. It’s disappointing. But I’m realistic with it, and I think it was a fair decision,” said Armas, an alternate to the 23-man squad.

“I think every player has certain goals and that’s one of them. I want to go to a World Cup with all my heart,” he added.

“I think I’ll always wonder, you know? If I’m being honest. But I know it wouldn’t be for a lack of ability as a player. It’d be for some other reason. I’d know why it didn’t happen.”

Seven months ago, Armas would have been a lock to be among the 23 players gathering Wednesday in Cary, N.C., for the start of the U.S. team’s World Cup training camp. The midfielder has been a mainstay on the national team since 2000, shoring up the defense and helping the Americans qualify for two World Cups. Though not a big talker, his unshakably positive personality has been a key to the improving team’s chemistry, too.

In Major League Soccer, he’s led the Chicago Fire to a championship and three U.S. Open Cup titles, and has been the team captain since 2003.

But in the Fire’s playoff opener last Oct. 21, Armas tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. With the World Cup beginning June 9 in Germany, he knew his chances of making the initial roster were slim.

“It’s one of those things where you don’t wish it on anyone. When it happens to someone like Chris, it just gets you in the pit of the stomach,” Fire coach Dave Sarachan said. “But if there’s a guy that can come back, it’s Chris Armas.”

He has, after all, had some practice at this.

He missed the Sydney Olympics after spraining his left knee in August 2000. Four years ago, 11 days before Armas was to leave with the U.S. team for South Korea, he blew out his right knee in an exhibition against Uruguay at Washington’s RFK Stadium.

“I was named to the team, my whole family had their tickets booked, my dad had his outfits planned. That just came to a halt that second,” Armas said. “I knew as soon as I came off the field my ACL was torn. I knew right then. It was a huge blow.

“And then on top of that with the infection after the surgery. For me, it was a tough time.”

A month after surgery to repair his ACL and his medial meniscus, Armas landed back in the hospital with a staph infection. He had a catheter in his arm for a month to deliver the antibiotics, and needed a second operation to clean out the infection.

He lost 15 pounds – nearly 10 percent of his weight – and the muscle tone in his right leg diminished.

Eleven months later, though, Armas was on the field for the Fire’s 2003 season opener. He also was part of the U.S. team for the FIFA Confederations Cup, serving as captain for the game against Cameroon.

He played in three World Cup qualifiers in 2004 and two more last year. When the Americans beat Mexico on Sept. 3 to clinch their trip to in Germany, Armas not only started, he played all 90 minutes.

Two months later, on Nov. 2, he was having surgery to repair his left ACL.

“He has just such a positive outlook on life, and he’s got a positive outlook on even this situation,” Sarachan said. “He made a determination he was going to push himself and get back in time for our season opener, which was April 1.”

Armas didn’t play in the season opener, but he was back training at full strength in April. Though he still limps a little when he’s jogging slowly, he can go full speed when he needs to. During a recent Fire practice, his quick footwork with the ball spun one of his teammates completely around.

He made his debut April 30, playing all 90 minutes as Chicago got its first win of the season. He was on the field for the entire game again last weekend.

But MLS isn’t the World Cup. This is the deepest the U.S. team has ever been – the midfielders include DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna and Clint Dempsey – and there was no room for sentimentality. When U.S. coach Bruce Arena announced his team last week, Armas wasn’t on it.

He was, though, tapped to be an alternate, and Arena didn’t rule out adding him later.

“He’s done a remarkable job to get back on the field and play 90 minutes this past weekend,” Arena said last week. “But I think, realistically, we see that Chris needs more time.”

Still, the fact that Armas is even an alternate 61/2 months after a serious knee injury is stunning.

“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” Sarachan said, choking up. “If there’s an injury, I told Bruce, “If he’s the 23rd guy, he can help that team advance.’ The fact that he made it this far to be an alternate is a phenomenal testament to him. All credit goes to Chris. I’m very proud of him.”

At 33, Armas knows this is probably his last chance to play in a World Cup, the pinnacle for any soccer player. But he refuses to pout or feel sorry for himself. If he doesn’t make it to Germany with the U.S. team, he’ll be leading the cheering section back in the United States.

“Some people would look at me and say, “He is the most unlucky guy,”‘ Armas said. “When I see my wife and my kids, if I dared say I was unlucky in my life, man, I’d just be a guy who just didn’t get it.”

AP-ES-05-08-06 1640EDT