Things are not looking good for Armando. At least, his future as a member of the New York Red Bulls is in doubt.
He sat out the first big training camp of RBNY's preseason. His squad number was given to a trialist (Mike Grella). Jesse Marsch indicated the club is actively seeking to move him on. And he recently announced he was giving away his boots.
Si queréis ganar este par de botas entrar en mi cuenta de @instagram y participad!! ⚽️ http://t.co/qT66aIUGXb pic.twitter.com/pFCYss1a7h— Armando Lozano (@LozanoArmando16) February 11, 2015
He surely has more than one pair of boots, but it's not a good sign when a guy who is under contract with a team is out of training and seems to be cleaning out his closet via social media.
What did he do wrong? We may never know. But it is hard not to suspect the cool reception he has been given by the new regime is unrelated to his reputation as an old-fashion hard man: physical to the point of recklessness; a red-card liability in MLS.
There is some truth to the reputation: he picked up three suspensions for varying degrees of roughness during the season. But Armando has never been sent off for the Red Bulls. In 2014, he collected six yellow cards - joint-second on the team's disciplinary wall of shame for the year. But he only got called for 16 fouls in the MLS regular season.
He was not the team's most booked player: that was Jamison Olave, who collected eight yellow cards. Or its most frequently whistled for fouls: that was Tim Cahill, who conceded 51 fouls in 1,516 regular season minutes. In MLS last year, Cahill averaged a foul roughly every 30 minutes he was on the field. Armando got called for one every 85 minutes or so (16 fouls in 1,350 minutes during the regular season).
That is a rate comparable to Lloyd Sam (who, incidentally, also collected six yellow cards in 2014) - 30 fouls in 2,832 minutes - or Thierry Henry, who conceded 33 fouls in 2,651 minutes.
Olave averaged a foul every 60 minutes in MLS 2014; Ibrahim Sekagya and Roy Miller also got whistled more frequently than Armando last season - they both averaged a foul roughly every 75 minutes.
So he wasn't fouling at an unusually high rate by the standards of his teammates. Indeed, he drew more fouls (19) than he conceded (16). If anything, that statistic suggests Armando ought to have a reputation for being a bit soft: going down to easily. He did have moments last year where protracted and theatrical efforts to win the referee's sympathy appeared counter-productive.
Instead, however, there is the feeling Armando has been harshly labeled a reckless player. At least, the reputation is harsh if one simply judges him on his disciplinary statistics for 2014. But the game isn't played on a spreadsheet, so in the service of trying to clear his name before he (seemingly inevitably) departs the team, here is a more detailed look at what Armando actually did wrong in the 2014 regular season.
Yellow Card #1: against Vancouver Whitecaps, for kicking Darren Mattocks in the knee
Armando's first card of his 2014 season for RBNY was well-deserved. He slides in to sweep a loose ball back to Luis Robles before a lurking Darren Mattocks can intercept and run in on goal. Whether due to momentum, some fear of Mattocks getting too close to his prostrate and vulnerable body, or simple malice, Armando leaves his leg extended - and even appears to make a second movement to connect with Mattocks.
Referees don't agonize over replays or worry much about intention. Armando was fortunate he wasn't judged to have deliberately kicked his opponent, in which case he would have likely been sent off. As it was, his action was (not at all unreasonably) deemed reckless.
Foul count for the match: 3 (team high)
Foul count for the season: 3
Yellow Card #2: against Colorado Rapids, for colliding with Deshorn Brown
This card came late in the game, so there may have been a persistent infringement element to it - although it was the only foul Armando was whistled for in the match according to the box score. It was also a soft card (in a game RBNY drew thanks to a very soft penalty call against Jamison Olave).
Armando goes up for a header, and Brown jumps late and essentially into the defender. Referee Alan Kelly had seen fit to award a penalty when Marvin Chavez jumped into Olave, so one can argue he was merely being consistent with this call.
The unfortunate Armando had worse problems after this game. A brouhaha involving Clint Dempsey and Mark Bloom's groin led the league to hand out suspensions for just about every swinging-limb incident it could find. Armando's loose leg to Deshorn Brown's mid-section hadn't been deemed a foul at the time it happened (one can see how it may have appeared more a consequence of Brown straying too close to a defender in the act of clearing a ball the forward had no chance of winning), but it was a kick to a sensitive area - and the league was demonstrating its zero-tolerance approach to such matters.
The suspension meant Armando had managed to collect two yellow cards and a suspension from four fouls in his first two matches in MLS.
Foul count for the match: 1
Foul count for the season: 4
Yellow card #3: against Chivas USA, for knocking over Mauro Rosales
After serving a one-game suspension, Armando was back in the starting lineup, once again collecting yellow cards. This one was recorded as persistent infringement, though it was a clumsy enough incident in itself the referee might simply have decided he didn't want players to get in the habit of kicking each other.
There doesn't seem to be a great deal to this: if Armando hadn't missed his clearance, or had checked his kick, he would likely have been stamped on by Rosales, who might then have been the one carded. As it was, a mistimed kick saw Armando tangled up with Rosales, and the Chivas players were falling all over the place this game (but RBNY won more fouls, as it happened).
Foul count for the match: 2
Foul count for the season: 6
Armando at this stage had three yellow cards in three starts, had already served a suspension for another incident, and certainly could be described as a card-magnet.
But first impressions are often misleading.
In RBNY's next game, however, against Montreal, he conceded no fouls at all (and made one very timely block).
Unfortunately, Armando had already established a reputation: Mike Petke had been advised during the game against Chivas that the Spaniard's rough-and-tumble style was being watched closely by the refereeing crew. Starting the game against Montreal had more to do with Olave needing not to be playing on terrible turf than Petke's faith in Armando. He limped off late against L'Impact and out of the starting lineup.
A couple of games later, Armando came off the bench for the last 10 minutes against Philadelphia as RBNY finally won a game, despite losing Ibrahim Sekagya to a red card. He gave up one foul, but received no cards during his cameo. Sekagya's suspension put Armando back in the lineup for the following game against Houston: one foul, no bookings. And he kept his place for several games. Another start followed against Columbus: two fouls, no bookings. He started again against Dallas: two fouls, no bookings. Against Chicago - the one RBNY lost by the odd goal in nine - Armando played 90 minutes and gave up no fouls at all. He had another clean 90 in the loss against Toronto.
At this point in the season, Armando had made seven straight appearances - including six starts - without a booking. And after being called for six fouls in his first three games, he'd conceded six in his seven subsequent matches. The team wasn't playing particularly well (it had won just three of its first 12 games), and Armando could certainly be identified as part of a not-at-all solid defense, but he was hardly a card-magnet.
With hindsight, it was perhaps the former issue rather than the latter that saw Armando drop out of the starting lineup one near-permanent basis. After 12 matches, he had nine starts and 10 appearances. He was a regular part of a team having a thoroughly mediocre start to its season.
Armando's next start - against Portland - brought his fourth yellow card, but it was also RBNY's third consecutive loss.
Yellow card #4: against Portland Timbers, for obstructing Darlington Nagbe
A straightforward tactical foul at a moment in the game - late with the scores tied - that certainly justified it. It was not undeserved, nor was it the mark of a violent player.
Foul count for the match: 1
Foul count for the season: 13
Thirteen games, just three wins, and on a run of three straight losses: the Red Bulls were not good. Mike Petke had already started to tinker with his back line - Chris Duvall got his first start against Portland - and unsurprisingly he continued to search for the right mix of players to stabilize the defense. Armando had been involved in both Portland's goals: the first came from a shot that deflected off his shoulder to wrong-foot Luis Robles; the second might have been averted if he hadn't completely missed an opportunity to clear a cross into the box.
Armando wasn't dropped because he gave up a yellow card against Portland, he was dropped because he couldn't prevent RBNY giving up two goals. And because the Red Bulls had just two clean sheets in their first 13 games - and one of those was the game in Dallas in which Robles saved a penalty.
Armando had 10 starts - 11 appearances total - in RBNY's first 13 games of the season. Subtract those opening three matches in which he did appear something of a liability on the field, and one is looking at a remarkably tidy defender: seven fouls and one yellow card in eight appearances. But the defense wasn't working very well and Petke had to make some changes.
The Spaniard was on the bench for the next game in Kansas City, but once again it appeared Ibrahim Sekagya's misfortune might be his redemption: the Ugandan limped off and Armando put in about 15 foul-free minutes as a substitute. Another start followed against New England, but that was a game where Petke was forced to juggle the lineup to manage the absences of players who could not be risked on turf. Matt Miazga and Armando were the starting center backs; Sekagya played as a holding midfielder. Miazga and Sekagya were both booked. Armando had one foul in 90 minutes. RBNY won. Miazga and Sekagya kept their places for the next game against Toronto (Dax McCarty was injured during this stretch); Armando was back on the bench.
This time, he stayed there for a while. One minute as a substitute when Olave was injured in the 89th minute of a 2-2 draw in Houston on July 4th was Armando's only sniff of the field in the MLS regular season between that June and September. It was a costly minute. In injury time, he clobbered Will Bruin with a high boot and earned his second post-hoc suspension for reckless play for an incident that didn't get much attention from the referee.
Oh, Armando. He didn't see the pitch again until a 25-minute run-out as a sub for Sekagya (who else?) on September 6.
Largely because he wasn't playing much, the card-magnet had gone more than three months without a booking. He logged one foul in that time; of course, he only made four appearances, and three of them were off the bench - and he'd still managed to get a two-game suspension.
Armando now had 15 regular season games under his belt, of which 11 were starts; he'd been called for 14 fouls and received four yellow cards. He'd also started RBNY's (awful) US Open Cup game against New York Cosmos and (falsely encouraging) CONCACAF Champions League opener against CD FAS - no cards in those games either.
He would make four more appearances in MLS over RBNY's remaining eight matches of the regular season, get whistled for another two fouls, and draw one further card.
But before those games, he provided perhaps the crowning highlight of his not-entirely-deserved reputation as a wild man. When D.C. United came to the Arena on September 10, Armando was on the bench. He would stay on the bench for the entire game. Nonetheless, despite not seeing a minute of playing time, he finished the match with a yellow card - his fifth of the season.
Yellow card #5: against D.C. United, for protecting Roy Miller
The incident appears to have escaped posterity. MLS doesn't offer a highlight, anyway. But it lives long in the memory: Roy Miller got into a scuffle on the sideline shortly after Fabian Espindola was sent off for kicking Dax McCarty (accidentally, it should be said) in the chest in the first half. The match was getting scrappy, tempers were short, and a squalling crowd of players rapidly gathered around Miller. Armando, propelled by the desire to protect a teammate, was suddenly, inexplicably, off the bench (and by "bench", note the subs at the Arena occupy the second row of high-backed, cushioned seats that comprise the seating area for the team and technical staff - he had to scramble over some furniture to join the fray) and doing his bit for the team.
A yellow card followed for Armando (and Miller).
His reputation might have been formed by three unfortunate incidents at the start of the season, but it was surely sealed by the time he contrived to get booked during a game he never played in.
Still, for the run-in, Armando was essentially a spot-starter, and he went back to doing what he'd been doing for most of the season: quietly helping out when needed.
When international call-ups robbed the Red Bulls of their two best options at left back, Petke started his Spaniard in the trouble-spot: 90 minutes, one foul, no cards against Philadelphia. When Olave wasn't available against Houston on October 4, Armando put in 90 foul-free minutes in the middle of defense. Another Sekagya injury saw the not-so-wild man called upon to give 45 minutes against Toronto FC - no fouls, no card.
So far, so good. Those three games brought two wins and a draw. RBNY was starting to look a bit like a playoff-bound team. And Armando was in line for another start, since Sekagya's knock against Toronto would prove tough to shake off.
It wasn't his last appearance for the club - he had a substitute appearance in CCL and an off-the-bench minute to help close out RBNY's magnificent playoff series win over DC United ahead of him - but Armando's last start for the Red Bulls in 2014 was a throwback to his first.
Yellow card #6: against Columbus Crew, for tripping Bernardo Anor
An unnecessary 89th-minute foul in a game that was already lost (the Red Bulls were 3-1 down at the time), Armando's last start was highlighted by his last booking of 2014, which also brought his second suspension.
It was only his third official foul in MLS since May, but there haven't been many players in the history of RBNY who have made their on-field indiscretions count against them so efficiently.
Foul count for the match: 1
Foul count for the season: 16
When one is trying to make a case that a player has acquired an undeserved reputation for recklessness, it doesn't help to be forced to record that he picked up his sixth booking of the season in his team's first loss at home since the last time he got carded in a game he was actually playing (Portland's visit back in May). If 2014 was his one and only season for RBNY, Armando framed it rather perfectly: yellow cards in his first and last starts; suspensions earned during his first and last MLS regular season appearances at Red Bull Arena.
Nor is it helpful to have to acknowledge that the Red Bulls only won one game in which Armando was booked - and that was the one against DC that he watched entirely from the bench.
He deserves a little better than to have his 2014 written off as a succession of reckless challenges. But one can see how the card-magnet reputation was acquired. He did have a remarkably clumsy introduction to MLS. He did pick up a lot of cards in a very few games to start the year. And though he wasn't whistled for many fouls, when he did attract attention, it tended to be for actions that were lowlights of low points of the season.
If the moments most fans remember about you are bookings in games your team didn't win, your reputation will suffer accordingly. And if you manage to get suspended twice for incidents that were not noticed by the referee during the games in question, it does suggest someone in the league office is taking a close look at your conduct on the field. He lost the benefit of the doubt in his first two games for RBNY and never got it back.
And although Mike Petke is a fan of defenders who play hard, the fact the Spaniard has been held at arm's length by the new regime suggests there is a different opinion in the re-staffed front office these days.