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Paul Arriola — finally healthy — appears ready to make his return for a struggling D.C. United

Paul Arriola, seen here in an August 2019 match, has recovered from a quadriceps injury suffered while on loan to Swansea City and is likely to make his 2021 MLS debut Thursday or Sunday. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

In all likelihood, Paul Arriola will be in uniform for D.C. United on Thursday for the first time in more than six months.

A lot has happened in between.

Most recently, the winger recovered from a quadriceps injury, which undermined his loan to Swansea City in the English second division, ended his prospects of a permanent move overseas and prompted a premature return to Washington.

After several weeks of rest, rehab and secondary workouts, Arriola returned to full training Monday. Both he and Coach Hernán Losada have been upbeat about his progress, and although the team has not declared him in the game-day mix, Arriola seems almost certain to be on the squad against the Chicago Fire at Audi Field.

There is also an outside chance his return will come Sunday, when Orlando City visits.

“So far, so good,” Arriola said. “It feels great to be back out there. Being in a new system [under a first-year coach] and seeing the way we want to play is exciting and refreshing.”

United (1-3-0) needs help in multiple areas. A deluge of preseason and early-season injuries has left Losada with a badly undermanned roster. And after a comeback victory over New York City FC in the April 17 opener, his team lost three straight on the road. It will play the next three at home.

Arriola is among multiple players at or near the point of return.

“Paul is super enthusiastic,” Losada said. “He has started looking [closer to] his best shape. He looks good, looks great.”

Arriola, a U.S. national team regular, is arguably United’s most important player, but since he tore an ACL in the 2020 preseason, he has made one MLS appearance: as a substitute in the season finale in November.

Two national team appearances over the winter preceded a four-month loan to Swansea City, meaning he would miss United training camp and several regular season matches — if he returned at all. A strong showing could have resulted in transfer offers.

Arriola, 26, made three brief appearances with the Swans before getting injured. After he aggravated the strain, United and Swansea City agreed he should return to Washington.

“It was a rough time. I don’t think people fully understand that,” he said. “It’s tough going in halfway through a season and trying to cope with it, especially coming off an ACL injury. My goal was to get some minutes and continue to train and keep my form. You have to wait for your opportunity, and obviously mine didn’t come because of the injury.”

From a distance, Arriola said he will watch the Swans in a promotion playoff for the last lucrative ticket to the Premier League next season. They will play Barnsley in a two-leg semifinal next week, with the winner facing Brentford or Bournemouth.

“Everyone was great to me. I wish it would’ve gone a little better,” he said. “Even though I am not there, I am excited for them and rooting for them.”

During the loan, Arriola also had to apologize for offensive tweets he had posted as a teenager. Arriola, who posted an apology on Twitter, has undergone mandatory unconscious bias training since he returned stateside.

“I’ve learned a lot, and I’m able to share my experience and continue to learn,” he said.

On the field, Arriola said he is eager to contribute in Losada’s system, which typically uses wingers and wing backs.

Before joining United in the summer of 2017, Arriola played wing back for Mexican club Tijuana. Under the previous D.C. coach, Ben Olsen, he was primarily an attacking winger who also provided emergency cover in central midfield and fullback. His best position, though, is high in the attack.

As he works himself back into peak fitness and form, Arriola also will make a push for national team selection this summer.

Despite Arriola’s inactivity, U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter included him on the 40-man provisional roster for the Concacaf Nations League finals in Denver in June. The 23-man list will come out in about two weeks.

With European-based players expected to fill most of those slots, Arriola is a stronger candidate for the Concacaf Gold Cup, a tournament suited for MLS players while most European-based players are on vacation. It will run July 10 to Aug. 1.

The aim for Arriola and the others is selection to the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, starting in September.

Getting back onto the field with United, though, is his first step.

“Hopefully I can help the team in any way and help us get some wins,” he said. “It just feels great to be back.”

Note: D.C. upgraded midfielder Drew Skundrich’s contract to MLS status from second-division Loudoun United. It is for one year guaranteed with two team option years. Skundrich, 25, spent the preseason with the first team.

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