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December 30th, 2002 12:50PM
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Defensive midfielder Chris Armas, a stalwart in the U.S. World Cup qualifying campaign, was ruled out of the finals less than four weeks before the opening game when he suffered a knee injury during a friendly against Uruguay.

To many teammates and fans, Chris Armas was the heart and soul of the U.S. World Cup team. But he missed the tournament.

A man who has won thousands of tackles and shaken off hundreds of hits crumpled while planting a foot. Armas pushed on for eight more painful minutes, then hobbled off and was replaced by Pablo Mastroeni.

Torn was the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and gone were his World Cup dreams. But like fans across the country, he got up in the early morning to watch the action from South Korea.

''I kept in touch with the guys through e-mail, and Josh Wolff, who would have been my roommate during the World Cup, called me a lot,'' said Armas. ''The guys and the staff were unbelievably great. [General manager] Pam Perkins called me right after we scored that first goal against Portugal. Josh would call me from the team bus and leave the line open, just so I could hear what was going on.''

High fevers and swelling in his knee plagued Armas as he began rehab. Three weeks after the surgery, he was diagnosed with a staph infection, which required him to receive antibiotics through a pick line - similar to an IV - for six weeks.

''That set me back because I couldn't do much therapy with that line in my arm,'' said Armas, who lost 18 pounds because of the infection.

Armas watched the World Cup from his home near Chicago with his wife, Justine, and infant son Chris, Jr.

''I had a feeling with the mix of players we had we were going to do well,'' said Armas. ''It was great, and I was very proud of what the team did. I just wish I could have been there.''

by Soccer America Editors

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