Arriola, 25, will undergo reconstruction surgery Monday and need up to nine months of recovery and rehabilitation. United will open the seven-month regular season next Saturday.
Both the team and standout midfielder had clung to slim hope that he might be able to return this summer. But after consulting with doctors, he and United began mapping out a long-term rehabilitation plan.
“He was excited for the year, and we were excited to see him,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “But this happens sometimes. You rarely go through a career without getting bit at some point. I feel bad for him and I feel bad for our fans because he is such a joy to watch.”
Arriola was hurt Feb. 15 in the first half against Orlando City in Tampa.
In addition to the MLS campaign, Arriola will miss several U.S. training camps and matches leading to 2022 World Cup qualifying, which will begin late in the summer and continue into the fall. He has been a regular on the squad for two years.
“I know recovery is going to be hard; that’s my reality,” said Arriola, who has 14 goals and 12 assists in 68 appearances (64 starts) over 2½ MLS seasons since leaving Mexican club Tijuana. “You can put your head down and feel bad for yourself or keep headstrong and focus on your goal.”
Arriola’s injury will leave United without its top four scorers from 2019. The others were Wayne Rooney (now with England’s Derby County), Lucas Rodríguez (Argentina’s Estudiantes) and Luciano Acosta (Mexico’s Atlas). The quartet combined for 29 of the team’s 42 goals and 15 of its 32 assists.
The Arriola announcement came 45 minutes before United’s preseason finale, a 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union. Kamara scored twice; Ulises Segura had a goal and an assist and drew a penalty kick.
Olsen previewed his season-opening lineup, with one possible exception. Recovering from a groin injury, Asad did not enter until the start of the second half and was limited to 30 minutes.
He replaced Flores, the prized winter acquisition, whose minutes were capped at 45 as he returns from a minor ailment. Segura started in Asad’s place.
United (3-2-1 in the preseason) will open next weekend at Audi Field against the Colorado Rapids.
“Everyone understands their roles, and you can see how the team wants to play,” midfielder Felipe Martins said. “The team is creating chances in the buildup and in transition. We need a couple more games to really get into the rhythm, but as you can see, we are very close.”
The team will miss Arriola’s tenacity, speed and versatility. He plans to do his rehab in the D.C. area.
“What I’ve done is listen to a lot of opinions from players who have gone through it,” Arriola said. “I’m just trying to mentally prepare for the battle that’s about to come. That said, I don’t know what it’s going to be like, so it’s going to be a learning process.”
Arriola said he has no history of knee problems. His most recent surgery came in late 2017 for a broken nose.
“Hopefully the pain doesn’t compare to that,” he said, wincing, “because I remember what that felt like.”
At the moment he was injured, Arriola said, he did not think it was serious.
“I thought, ‘Oh, shoot, maybe it was my hamstring or high calf.’ I never in a million years thought it was my knee," he said. "I knew I had pain, but after the initial few seconds, it didn’t hurt and I was able to move. I thought I could walk on it. I didn’t want to come out of the game so early because it would affect my fitness” in preparing for the start of the season.
When he arrived at the bench, however, “I could see the looks on the trainers’ faces and the quiet vibe that surrounded me. That’s when the reality set in and the emotions flew out of me.”
United has until May 5 to place Arriola on the season-ending injury list and spend up to $250,000 on a roster replacement. The team remains in the market for another attacker and two defenders.