To honor his mother, D.C. United’s Paul Arriola arrived at Audi Field on Sunday wearing a white T-shirt featuring a photo of her posing with him at a U.S. national team match.
For his late father, Arriola dedicated his game-winning goal — a beautiful, bending shot in the 78th minute that streaked through the raindrops and splashed into the far side of the net for a 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City.
Arriola removed his right shoe and held it to his face, as if he were making a phone call. He looked to the heavens, raised his left arm and pointed with his index finger.
“It’s tough losing a parent,” said Arriola, whose father, Arturo, died in October of an apparent heart attack. He was 48. “You think of him every single day — different things, different circumstances. I felt like giving him one today.”
Since scoring last weekend against Columbus, Arriola said, he had thought of ways to dedicate his next goal to his father.
“The next time I score,” he said, “that’s going to be for him.”
So on a day for mothers, Arriola said he was able to “make them both feel special.”
Arriola launched his shot from 19 yards. Goalkeeper Tim Melia got his fingers on it but couldn’t prevent the right wing’s third goal of the year.
“It was always going to take something a little special to get the goal,” Coach Ben Olsen said of a match that, against a depleted and defensive-oriented opponent, seemed destined for a scoreless draw. “I don’t think we got frustrated with ourselves that [the goal] didn’t come. We kept going after it, and Paul makes a wonderful, terrific play.”
United (7-3-2) was on its front foot most of the cold, rainy night, but connections were a bit off and Melia was sharp. As the weather and field conditions deteriorated, any hope of building rhythm slipped away, and scoring opportunities came through aerial assaults and defensive misfortune.
For the most part, Kansas City (2-4-4) absorbed pressure and waited patiently for counterattacking forays. But as the second half unfolded and United ran out of ideas, the visitors grew into a greater threat through possession.
And then Arriola struck.
Said captain Wayne Rooney: “It was a lovely finish. He executed it fantastically.”
Said midfielder Russell Canouse, Arriola’s closest friend on the team: “Pretty unbelievable.”
With center back Donovan Pines hurt and newly acquired left back Marquinhos Pedroso acclimated, Olsen returned to a four-defender alignment.
Despite the flood of absences, Kansas City put forth a potent attack with its three top scorers and newly reacquired Benny Feilhaber. The defense, minus starters Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Andreu Fontas, was the concern. In the previous three outings, Sporting had conceded 11 goals.
Coach Peter Vermes had few options on the bench: three outfield players and a goalkeeper, three fewer than the game-day maximum.
Given the circumstances — absences, weather, location — Vermes had no issues settling for a draw.
Rooney threatened first, forcing Melia to make a spectacular save on a 25-yard free kick. Later, off Rooney’s corner kick, Melia blocked Steve Birnbaum’s header and, on the rebound, stopped Frederic Brillant’s close-in bid.
In the second half, it was Bill Hamid’s turn — a leaping gem on Krisztian Nemeth’s one-timer from short distance and a wonderful reflex save on Graham Smith’s header off a corner kick.
Those saves countered last week’s performance, in which he got beat to the near corner (on a goal that was later nullified) and let a corner kick slip off his hands for a goal.
United regained control, but Kansas City’s resistance was sturdy.
“We had trouble breaking through their last barrier,” Olsen said.
Arriola solved the puzzle, collecting Rooney’s pass, creating space at the top of the box and tagging his shot with authority and accuracy.
“We just stuck with what we needed to. First half we weren’t finishing off,” Arriola said. “We didn’t stop going.”
Kansas City threatened in stoppage time, but two bids missed by a whisker and Hamid recorded his sixth shutout.
Arriola was replaced just before the final whistle, leaving to a rousing ovation from the announced crowd of 12,521.
“A special day,” he said, “a special night.”
Notes: In his first competitive match since completing cancer treatment, third-year D.C. defender Chris Odoi-Atsem entered in the 68th minute of second-division Loudoun United’s 3-1 victory at Charlotte on Saturday. His previous appearance came in an MLS game at Columbus in March 2018. . . .
D.C. homegrown attacker Griffin Yow logged 79 minutes and academy midfielder Bryang Kayo played the last nine as the U.S. under-17 national team qualified for the U-17 World Cup with a 3-0 victory over Panama in Bradenton, Fla. Sporting KC’s Gianluca Busio scored the first goal. . . .
Kansas City midfielder Gedion Zelalem, the former Bethesda standout who signed with Arsenal at age 16, made his first visit to Washington as an MLS player but did not play . ..
Kim Darroch, British ambassador to the United States, participated in the ceremonial first kick. (He supports Chelsea.)