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With new role on U.S. Under-20s, Arriola facing a potential year of change in 2015

Paul Arriola Tijuana (CONCACAF)

By FRANCO PANIZO

SUNRISE, Fla. — For Paul Arriola, 2015 could be a year of significant changes. A positional switch with the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team is already underway, and a switch of addresses at the club level could soon follow.

Arriola is currently in Jamaica with his U.S. teammates preparing for the start of CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship, and is expected to play a pivotal part in helping the Americans advance from the tournament and into this summer’s World Cup. In order to get there, however, Arriola will have to adapt well to new challenges. First, in a more central role with Tab Ramos’ team. Then, at a possible new home in MLS to seek playing time.

“I’ve talked to my agent Chris (Megaloudis) about trying to get a loan and we’re in talks right now, but it’s up to Tijuana,” Arriola told SBI. “Obviously, I’m up for it because I want to play and if I go somewhere, it’ll probably be somewhere in the MLS.”

That scenario would be an interesting twist of sorts to the 19-year-old attacker’s budding career. Arriola is known for having turned down a deal with the LA Galaxy in order to sign with Liga MX’s Club Tijuana in 2013, but now could be landing in MLS in order to secure consistent first team minutes in a year that should include a World Cup trip to New Zealand for he and several other young Americans.

“I think I’d prefer a long season than two short seasons because, in my opinion, with two short seasons, I’ve learned in Mexico, since a lot of (coaches) come and go each season, there’s not much room for chances,” said Arriola. “A lot of coaches don’t take chances on young players. I feel like the MLS season is so long, that players will miss a couple games here and there if they’re tired or fatigued.

“For us, it’s completely different. You go into like Week 7 and if you’re not in the middle of the pack, if you’re in the low pack, you’re like, ‘Well, geez, you have to win every single game because we only have nine more,’ or however many we have. I definitely prefer (a longer season) because I think I’d get more chances in the MLS and I’m definitely interested to see if I do go back, how I would fit in compared to the guys.”

If the more structured approach in MLS is more appealing to Arriola now, it’s only because of what he’s learned during his time in Mexico. Coaches are hired and fired with a high frequency there, making stability practically impossible to come by. Arriola has already witnessed several coaching changes at Tijuana, and he’s only been there for a year-and-a-half.

The constant shuffling is tough for any player, but young prospects looking to break into the lineup tend to find it especially difficult. As quick as they might be receiving first team minutes and playing well under one manager, they can just as easily be cast aside by another whose style doesn’t suit them nearly as well.

That scenario has played out for Arriola in the past year at Club Tijuana. After making 14 league appearances for the Xolos in his first year at the club, the Chula Vista, California, native has seen his role diminish under different managers. He’s even had to go on loan to second-division side Dorados to find some minutes in the midst of all the coaching chaos.

“The difficult thing has been switching coaches,” said Arriola, who played in five matches for a total of 92 minutes during the recently-concluded Apertura campaign. “It’s definitely tough. My first coach we played a 4-3-3 that I fit in perfectly. I did real well. The second coach played more of a 4-4-2 and the style was different, the demands were different. Now, we play more of a 4-4-2 and I find myself as a right mid but I still find myself sitting behind someone else.

“That’s always a challenge, especially when you’re young. I think in my position since I’m young, they might say I lack the experience. I wouldn’t say I lack the heart to play, but I feel like when you’re young they’re not quite sure. Coaches, especially, when they’re trying to keep their jobs, a lot of times they’re not quite sure do they risk a position on a young player unless he’s doing really well.

“That’s where I find myself, kind of sitting on the bench, kind of when a situation happens, when the coach needs me, that’s when he’s going to play me. I’m not necessarily a player that’s going to always be put in like I want to be, like every player wants to be if they’re on the bench. But I’ve been trying to make the most of that.”

While Arriola has tried to maintain his chill and pleasant demeanor in the face of this difficulty, the lack of playing time has affected his form. Naturally, he has not always been as sharp as he can be when he’s arrived to U.S. U-20 camps and it even garnered a recent talking to from a concerned Ramos.

“I see Paul a lot sharper now than he was about a month and a half ago, and I talked to him about it,” Ramos told SBI. “I said, ‘Paul, obviously I want to have you as big part of the team and you’re an important guy, but I don’t see you in good form. If you’re not in good form in this group, someone will pass you because everyone is hungry and ready.'”

Ramos has seen Arriola’s form improve since that conversation and expects the 5-foot-7 prospect to play a “big role” in the upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign, which starts on Friday. But Arriola will likely not only be deployed in his customary winger role over the course of the five group stage games in Jamaica.

That’s because he has been seeing some time lately as a central midfielder, playing as a hybrid No. 8/No. 10. It’s a new position for Arriola, but one that Ramos has been slowly introducing his player to in recent months.

Ramos first had Arriola play in a more central role than he’s accustomed to in a Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup match. The U.S. set up with a diamond midfield of sorts on the day, and Arriola was deployed on his preferred right side but with more responsibilities to pinch in centrally.

Arriola then saw time as a pure central midfielder in last month’s camp, playing in the new spot in the first of two friendlies in Honduras. He’s making progress in the new position, but is still learning all of its ins and outs

“It’s easier when people communicate,” said Arriola. “Finding myself in that position where there’s always people behind me so I have to trust my teammates to step, to press, to come back, to back off or whatever. It’s definitely something that’s interesting.”

Interesting can also be read as challenging. Arriola admitted it’s been difficult at times to fight his natural instincts on the field, instincts that tell him to go at defenders and run at space. But in his new position he’s not able to do so as frequently because of the amount of defenders that normally surround him, forcing him to think quicker, pass faster and try to find spaces in between the opponent’s defensive and midfield lines to receive the ball.

While Arriola would probably prefer to play out wide, just being on the field for this qualifying campaign is something that is really exciting him. He missed out on a previous qualifying campaign with a younger U.S. squad because of a stress fracture, and is more than eager to play a role in trying to reach the World Cup this time around.

Accomplish that and playing time at the club level may be easier to come by, regardless of where he is.

Comments

  1. Arriola lost his spot to Pepe Garcia, who is one of the best young players for Mexico this generation. Seems like another Salgado situation when he ran from Chivas after losing his spot to Cubo Torres in the U20 team.

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  2. I hate this theory of “oh well we found this new player, lets try him out somewhere different on the pitch”. These club boses see these players day in and day out, they know theyre best position, so we should try our best to keep him there. Also with this team who does he plan to play out wide? Flores? Gooch? Gall? I think id rather see arriola there than anyone else. And you already have hyndman who plays a mean box to box role

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    • W,

      “These club boses see these players day in and day out, they know theyre best position, so we should try our best to keep him there”

      So you are saying clubs are never wrong about players? Or that players always play their best positions at their clubs?.

      There is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

      Perhaps the most recent and obvious example is SKC center forward Teal Bunbury who is now more of a winger with the Revs.

      Or Henry of RBNY who , was a winger at Monaco before he went to Arsenal and was converted to striker by Wenger

      Or Landon Donovan who made his initial USMNT splash as a striker paired with McBride and then moved between winger, central midfielder and striker for much of his career.

      In theory clubs have more flexibility than national teams in that if they don’t have, for example, a left back, they can go out and buy one, while your national team can’t do that. In reality, many clubs have budgets and many clubs , if faced with a left back deficit, will first try to solve it in house if they can. They might even convert a midfielder and put him at left back, like Arsenal originally did with Ashley Cole. Or take a defensive midfielder like Vincent Kompany and convert him to center back.

      I’ll bet there are more than a few very good goalscorers in the Barca system who are playing other positions because Messi is there. Anyone who thinks JK invented player versatility hasn’t watched a lot of soccer.

      Player versatility , the prized utility player , is just as valuable at many clubs as they are at the national team level.

      Any national team manager , under 20 or otherwise, who does not figure out how versatile his players are is being criminally negligent.

      International football is all about tournaments which means frozen rosters and several games in a short period on time. And of course that means player versatility is critical. That is why Jeff Cameron is so valuable to the USMNT.

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      • I understand player versatility but playing players completely out of position is another thing. For example jermaine jones has played a d mid for his entire career, apart from a couple games at cb for besitkas. So why play him there when he slots in perfectly next to bradley. Or in this case why play arriola as a box to box when we have the best box to box in this whole tournament in hyndman, and are a bit weaker out wide.

      • W :

        “I understand player versatility but playing players completely out of position is another thing.”

        Define “completely out of position”? To me that would be like playing Aaron Rodgers at left tackle or Brad Guzan on the right wing..

        This is soccer where by and large, if you are a fundamentally sound, reasonably athletic, player (leaving keepers out of the discussion) then you should be able to do at least a credible job at most any position. It’s not like many American sports where positional specialization is absolute king.

        For example, you wouldn’t expect to put Tom Brady or Peyton Manning at defensive tackle or Derek Jeter at catcher. Go back and watch footage of the great Dutch “Clockwork Orange “ total football teams of the 70’s. On that team players rotated positions during the course of the game. Johann Cruyff was as likely to be at right back as he was at center forward or the left side of midfield. So forgive me if I do not consider moving Jones to center back or moving Arriola a bit more inside to be seismic changes.

        “For example jermaine jones has played a d mid for his entire career, apart from a couple games at cb for besitkas. So why play him there when he slots in perfectly next to bradley.”

        Do you know who Vincent Kompany is? He made the same move and is doing well. So have many other midfielders. Jones is getting older and slowing down. He won’t be able to partner Mikey forever and there are other US midfielders to try out.

        Center back is still a concern for the US. Right now, JJ is the guy who makes the USMNT go so it only makes sense to see if moving him to center back can solve the issues at center back and maybe extend JJ’s career with the US.

        “Or in this case why play arriola as a box to box when we have the best box to box in this whole tournament in hyndman, and are a bit weaker out wide.”

        First of all, never mind that injury is always a possibility, it’s not clear to me that Ramos can count on both Arriola and Hyndman being available for the entire qualifying campaign and the actual tournament

        So it is Ramos’ job to find out what kind of depth he has.

        Second of all how do you know Arriola is the best US wide man? Maybe Arriola will flourish in the middle and maybe some of the other guys will do well out on the wing. Or maybe Ramos won’t deploy wingers.

        Whatever the case, it shouldn’t take Ramos very long to see how well these experiments will work out. Its not like Ramos has them qualified already and the US is looking at the finals next week.

      • Completely out of position: Like jones at CB, alfredo morales, danny williams on the wing. Or in this case arriola centrally, has he ever played centrally for tijuana? Not a single minute.

        We are not the dutch team of the 70s, not even close. Look at the top national teams now, does germany shift players out of position? Not really. Spain? Pretty much never. Brazil? Argentina? Nope, and when they do it generally has dire consequences. These players are used to being in certain situations, having certain angles, and dealing with it in a certain way.

        Yes i know who vincent kompany is, i also know he made the switch to cb at a young, formable age. Not near the end of his career. Also kompany is a world class player while jermaine is not.

        Also there are other CBs to trot out, Gonzo, Besler, Brooks, Ream, Orozco, Hedges, and more coming up the pipeline. What happens if in 2017 jones cant go anymore, then we have failed to prepare those other younger players to step in.

        CB was i thought one of our surprisingly stronger positions in the WC, Besler was run a little ragid but apart from that gonzo and JAB were pretty solid. The poor CB play we had there was from cameron, who surprise surprise is not a CB.

        Just i see with this team a slight weakness in the wing. For this tournament will we likely see players like thompson, gall and gooch all get time out wide, while they are better centrally. So why take our solid right winger and move him centrally? Also i can tell arriola is our best wide man based on double digit appearances with a solid liga mx side. While some of these other guys find it hard to make the bench in MLS.

      • W

        “Completely out of position: Like jones at CB, alfredo morales, danny williams on the wing.”

        If you watched that game against Italy, Danny Williams was not played out of position. He was positioned on the right side of a 5 man midfield during the Italy game for one reason; to prevent Italy from overrunning the US midfield as they so often do.A good defender and good on the ball, Williams also gave the under pressure US defense another outlet to release the ball to instead of having to blast clearances upfield. The US won 1-0 and Williams was an important part of that. The tactic worked.

        “Or in this case arriola centrally, has he ever played centrally for tijuana? Not a single minute.”

        And this is a good thing? You are determined he should never see a minute in central midfield? Why? Ramos has made it clear that the move centrally could help Arriola improve his game overall.
        Why are you so against that?

        “We are not the dutch team of the 70s, not even close. Look at the top national teams now, does germany shift players out of position? Not really.”

        Last year Germany had fullback Lahm play in midfield due to Khedira’s injury . As best as I can tell Germany did not lose a game when Lahm did that. Furthermore, over the years, Germany has never been afraid to play midfielders in defense and vice versa. Look it up.

        “Spain? Pretty much never. Brazil? Argentina? Nope, and when they do it generally has dire consequences. These players are used to being in certain situations, having certain angles, and dealing with it in a certain way.”

        Good for them. Germany, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina generally don’t play players in positions that they don’t normally play at their clubs largely because all those countries have talented depth beyond the US’ wildest dreams.
        .
        It is a luxury not afforded JK

        “Yes i know who vincent kompany is, i also know he made the switch to cb at a young, formable age. Not near the end of his career. Also kompany is a world class player while jermaine is not. Also there are other CBs to trot out, Gonzo, Besler, Brooks, Ream, Orozco, Hedges, and more coming up the pipeline. What happens if in 2017 jones cant go anymore, then we have failed to prepare those other younger players to step in.”

        If JK was totally happy with Gonzo, Brooks, Besler, Ream, Orozco, Hedges et.al. he wouldn’t be moving JJ to CB would he? Brooks is looking good lately but they all have flaws.

        There are important competitions coming up in the next two years, the Gold Cup and most notably Copa America, which at this point is our equivalent of the Euros. I expect JK to put together a team designed to win those competitions. I expect JJ to be the starting CB on those squads. If JJ can’t make it to Russia, then someone else will have to do his job.
        I expect Jones to set a standard that,whoever wants to take his job , will have to match. You seem to want to gift wrap it for a successor, make it easy for them, which I think is the road to complacency and failure.

        Let them fight it out and may the best man win.

        The two USMNT CB’s in the World Cup at Russia, assuming we qualify and assuming we are not at war with Russia, may be two players we do not know about today.

        Three years is a very long time in soccer.

  3. “The constant shuffling is tough for any player, but young prospects looking to break into the lineup tend to find it especially difficult. As quick as they might be receiving first team minutes and playing well under one manager, they can just as easily be cast aside by another whose style doesn’t suit them nearly as well.”

    Weren’t you complaining about this the other day on your twitter account?

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    • I don’t think so since he was never under contract was he? I think player has to be under contract when they leave, and leave on the free w/ no transfer fee coming back.

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      • And the MLS team has to make the player a bonafide offer. None of these things apply to Arriola. No other MLS team but LA could sign him as a homegrown player, but that ship has already sailed.

      • Why has it sailed? Show me where in the HG rules that the Galaxy lose his HG rights just because he signed with another team outside of the MLS.

      • All I know is that if Jordan Morris signs abroad that Seattle doesnt retain his rights. At least that is what people have said that know more than I do

      • Furthermore, to be qualified as an HGP You have to have logged so many minutes in the academy each year. Safe to say he hasnt done that lately with the Galaxy

      • I don’t think collegiate students have to log minutes with the academy each year to retain their HG status. I don’t think Zardes was playing with the LA Galaxy academy once he was playing in college. That might apply to all players that have signed to play with a team outside of the MLS.

  4. good article, franco. paul seems to talk a lot. 🙂

    that’s an interesting perspective on liga mx’s 2-season setup. i’ve always liked it because it gives each game more importance, but i didn’t think about kids trying to break through on those teams.

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    • at the end if you have talent you’ll start no matter how old you are.
      Diego Reyes was a starter for Club America since he was 18, Jimenez became a starter at 21
      Rodolfo Pizarro (20) and Hirving Lozano (19) both start for Pachuca
      Arturo Gonzalez (20) is a key player for Atlas
      Renteria (Colombian/21), Abella (20) and Escoboza (21) are starters for Santos
      Jose Van Rankin starts for Pumas UNAM since he was 20

      to me it sounds like an excuse

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      • Yup, when Drogba was stuck on the bench at Le Mans at 20/21, I knew he was going to suck. That guy never amounted to anything, did he?

      • “at the end if you have talent you’ll start no matter how old you are.”

        thanks for the tip. i wasn’t saying (and it’s obvious paul isn’t either, if you actually read the quotes) that it was impossible for young players to break into teams under pressure, just that it was more difficult.

      • What kind of inane logic is that? It depends on a mix of talent, fit into the system and coaching preferences. Few players rarely stand out to such a degree that starting them is a no brainer (especially at Liga MX level).

    • So he’s played on the wing and now centrally? Hmmm…maybe he can start for me at CB. He needs to get out of his comfort zone and try to play at the highest level.

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      • I was thinking the same thing. You have a 19 year old kid who has done well for himself down in Mexico as a winger and now Tab is going to convert him to a CM!? Why? There are other talented options for CM within the team. Why would Tab do this so close to the qualifying tourney? As an outsider/fan, this makes little sense to me.

      • Laszlo, Hogatroge, et.al.

        “ Arriola admitted it’s been difficult at times to fight his natural instincts on the field, instincts that tell him to go at defenders and run at space. But in his new position he’s not able to do so as frequently because of the amount of defenders that normally surround him, forcing him to think quicker, pass faster and try to find spaces in between the opponent’s defensive and midfield lines to receive the ball.”

        Like it says in the article, while Ramos may not be as smart as the average SBI poster, maybe he actually is trying to help Arriola develop his game further by playing a role that challenges him and forces him to think about his game on the wing It is a fairly standard coaching tool.

        After all he can’t get playing time now. Maybe it’s not just the coaching carousel at TJ. Maybe he actually could stand to get better. Ramos coaches the Under 20’s not the senior team. Maybe Ramos is actually trying to make Arriola a better player for the national team in the future.

        I was under the impression that was one of the reasons for an Under 20 team.

      • That is true of the senior team but this is the Under 20’s.

        And, shifting Ariolla from the wing to a more central midfield role is not exactly like asking John Anthony Brooks to play right wing.

        American fans seem very tied to position descriptions. If Ariolla is the socer player he is supposed to be

      • A good playmaking midfielder can play all over the midfield and it’s good for him to have as much versatility as possible. Look at Adu. He’s really only remotely effective in a central attacking role. If the system doesn’t play a number 10 role or if he gets stuck behind someone better, he’s done. JK’s system values versatility and interchangeability over static roles.

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