While it is an underwhelming consolation prize for a fanbase hungry as ever for a cup title, perhaps a noteworthy measurement of New York Red Bulls as one of Major League Soccer’s elite organizations is its status as a hub for some of the league’s most notable managers. New York’s typical gravitational pull for many of the top coaches in the North American game (as well as the turnover on said coaches) has meant several of their ex-managers have landed in further jobs that have brought return trips to New Jersey.
On Saturday the latest member of this club will be inducted as Chris Armas returns to Harrison as Toronto FC manager just eight months after being fired by a new-look Red Bulls organization now under the command of Gerhard Struber. Here’s how several of Armas’ predecessors have fared in their professional returns to the Metro.
The most recent return visitor to Red Bull Arena is the manager who had likely the most controversial exit from the New York hot seat. Longtime MetroStars center back and former assistant coach Mike Petke won a Supporters Shield in his first season as head coach in 2013 before a less-impressive second season and a change in club leadership led to his dismissal in late 2014.
Petke returned to New York as part of a largely unsuccessful run as Real Salt Lake manager. Having charmed now-disgraced owner Dell Loy Hansen into a quick promotion from the Real Monarchs reserve team, Petke went just under .500 in a two-and-a-half year stint as the head coach at Rio Tinto. Petke was dismissed from the Salt Lake job in late 2019 following incident involving gay slurs used toward a referee, but not before dropping a brutal 4-0 result at Red Bull Arena in June 2019. With Jesse Marsch in the house during his summer vacation from Europe, the game was arguably the best result of the largely muted Chris Armas era in New York.
The well-traveled dean of American soccer coaches, it’s easy to forget among his many stops that Bruce Arena was the first manager headhunted for New York by the Red Bull ownership group. Hired in 2006 soon after his first release from the United States national team, Arena was expected to bring success to the newly-rebranded club but left the club in late 2007 after middling results.
Of course that was not the last we heard from Brooklyn native Arena, as he quickly restored his reputation with a trophy-laden run as LA Galaxy manager (notching a 3-2-1 record in games in New Jersey since leaving the Red Bulls, including the notorious 2011 playoff encounter) before a short, infamous second stint with the national team. The soon-to-be 70-year-old Arena surprised many by taking on the New England Revolution job in 2019, but has quickly turned what had been one of the league’s most rudderless organizations into an Eastern Conference contender. However Arena’s latest career bounceback has not endeared him to the fans in New York, where he typically gets a hostile reception due to the lingering memories of his mid-2000s failures, Galaxy run-ins, and the continued animus surrounding his role in the national team’s failure to reach the 2018 World Cup. Bruce’s most recent appearance at the Red Bull type of Arena was a 1-0 loss to the Bradley Carnell-helmed interim Red Bulls side last November.
Montclair native Bob Bradley had a more substantial stint at the helm in New York amidst a decorated career. After immediately establishing Chicago Fire as one of the league’s elite clubs Bradley was brought in for the final three years of the MetroStars era, reaching an Open Cup final and stabilizing the club’s roster ahead of the Red Bull era. Bradley returned to the Meadowlands a year later as Chivas USA manager to lose a 5-4 thriller before returning 12 years later with the re-born version of the same club, Los Angeles FC. The latter match was a gripping 2-1 victory for the Red Bulls, yet another example of Chris Armas seemingly saving his best for Red Bulls exes.
A longtime Tri State Area amateur coach and yet another Chris Armas mentor from their days at Long Island Rough Riders, Alfonso Mondelo was the manager of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars for the majority of the 1998 season. After being replaced by Bora Milutinovic as the old version of New York’s MLS team swerved from coach to coach, Mondelo went on to manage Tampa Bay Mutiny for half a season. A 3-1 victory over the MetroStars at Giants Stadium was one of Mondelo’s only two victories during the Mutiny’s final season of existence. Mondelo was last seen being inducted into the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Hall Of Fame in late 2019.