Paul Arriola began 2020 with the U.S. Men’s National Team and after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, will be able to conclude the year where it began, on the international level.
Arriola comes into his second USMNT camp this year with only two official matches under his belt. After suffering a torn ACL during MLS preseason camp with D.C. United, Arriola fought his way back for the Black and Red and made his season debut on November 8th’s Decision Day.
The USMNT veteran overcame plenty of adversity on the sidelines and was rewarded with another shot in Gregg Berhalter’s squad.
“I’m super excited to be back with the National Team after a difficult year, not just for myself, but for the world,” Arriola said in a conference call Wednesday. “I’m really grateful to be back with the team, it feels great already. I’m definitely excited to hopefully get some minutes against El Salvador and continue to grow with this group.”
“Gregg has mentioned to me before that I’m a big part of this group and I am very thankful for that. My job is to get better and to help the team win and every time I step on the field that is my goal. With this group also being a lot of young players, I think it’s important that I help pass on any knowledge from my past camps with Gregg. I’m obviously here to play, but I also want to help grow the team and get us better.”
The 25-year-old played a vital role for the USMNT in Berhalter’s first season in charge, appearing in 14 matches and scoring three goals in 2019. After back-to-back impressive MLS seasons, the winger featured in a 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica back in February before suffering his knee injury not long after.
Even though he didn’t play a match for nine months, Arriola was rewarded with a new multi-year contract extension at club level this summer. Since then he continued his rehabilitation and played the final 21 minutes of D.C. United’s 3-2 loss to the Montreal Impact, which saw the Black and Red miss the postseason.
Arriola has only been back with the USMNT for a few days in Florida, but has gotten familiarized once again with the energy of camp after a lengthy layoff this season.
“The reality is its hard to replicate the type of trainings that I’ve had here in the two days I’ve been here,” Arriola said. “Compared to what I’ve experienced over the past nine months, this is completely different compared to running off the field and preparing for the next chance. This is exactly what I need to continue my fitness program and try to get better. It takes a lot of work on my end to get healthy and fit, but also I think the staff has done a great job of monitoring me and evaluating me constantly.”
“It was huge for me, first off I wanted to be back in that last game with D.C. to try and get us in the playoffs, but also for self confidence to say I played in an official match this year. I knew that I could go into a National Team camp and feel confident. That first game back it felt good and it felt good to do the normal things again like making a tackle. I knew I would be full go.”
With the current USMNT camp and a looming January camp presenting opportunities for him. Arriola should have a few chances to show he is still a top candidate heading into a busy 2021. The USMNT will have four different competitions taking place next year with World Cup Qualifying taking center stage.
Arriola finds himself in the unfamiliar role of being one of the team’s veterans, and as one of the most capped players in the December camp, he will have a chance to take on a leadership role while he works to regain the national team position he held before his injury.
“Everyone has a chance to be a leader, everyone has a chance to lead and step up and make a difference,” Arriola said. “No matter what the caps are I think the people that should play are the best people suited for that game and guys that go out there are going to have to give everything they have. It’s exciting to see all the young talent that is coming up and in Europe and in MLS. I think we have amazing players and I think the country should be excited for what’s to come with the National Team.”