Paul Arriola had a pressing question for Gregg Berhalter this winter while participating in the coach’s first training camp in charge of the U.S. men’s squad: When a player tackles a different system for country than club, how can his national team coaches properly judge him?
“He, long story short, told me it’s the movements,” Arriola said.
When Arriola reported for D.C. United preseason in February, fresh off playing in the U.S. victories over Panama and Costa Rica, he took certain principles preached by Berhalter and integrated them into his role as the right winger in D.C.’s more direct system. That meant playing with increased attacking aggression — floating inside to find the ball, making more runs behind the defense and engaging in plenty of one-on-one battles.
“It’s OK if you lose the ball going forward in the opposing area,” said Arriola, 24. “That’s the mentality: Just go, and if it works 1 out of 10 times, then you’re successful. That’s how we’re judged.”
After scoring once in 11 games in 2017, when he joined United midseason, Arriola broke out with seven goals and eight assists last year. He picked up where he left off to start the 2019 MLS campaign, finding the net in a 2-0 season-opening win over Atlanta United. His more assertive mindset was apparent in that match and last week’s 0-0 draw with New York City FC, with Arriola providing a constant threat from the right flank.
“When we first got Paul, it was, ‘Paul’s selfless and he works hard and tactically he’s sound, technically he’s good — [he’s] just lacking that final product,’” United coach Ben Olsen said. “You saw last year that kind of changed. He’s off to a good start [this season] in that category.”
Arriola will look to maintain that form when D.C. (1-0-1) hosts Real Salt Lake (1-0-1) at Audi Field on Saturday (8 p.m., FloSports).
While Arriola’s versatility proved valuable to United last season — he started on both flanks, in central midfield and at right back — his natural position is on the right side of midfield. By adding right back Leonardo Jara and midfielder Lucas Rodriguez this offseason, United has built a roster that seemingly locks in Arriola as the right winger.
“This year, more than last year, I have a really good understanding of my role and the type of player that I am,” Arriola said. “It gives me a lot of confidence moving forward.”