Paul Arriola returns to USMNT after World Cup snub


CARSON, Calif. – Earlier this month, Paul Arriola received word that an assistant with the US men’s national soccer team wanted to talk to him about coming to the annual winter training camp.

It’s been two months since Arriola was on Gregg Berhalter’s final roster before the Americans travel to Qatar for the World Cup — a decision he said left him “a little shocked” and cried for an hour in his car.

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However, the timing was right. His marriage to Akela Banuelos at a seaside resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., would mark the beginning of a new journey, and now here the national team was offering a fresh start.

“A lot of situations that we go through, we don’t have the opportunity to dictate how they go, right?” Arriola said Tuesday. “I didn’t control whether I was going to be in the team at the World Cup, but I controlled how I wanted to respond.

“As a married man, when I hope to have children one day. I want them to be able to look at their father and say that he really failed in his dreams and he chose to respond by standing up and still being ready to be part of the program and keep playing.”

Arriola accepted the invitation to this MLS intensive camp, his first since the United States lost to the Netherlands on Dec. 3 in the World Cup. He is among 24 players preparing for Wednesday’s friendly against Serbia in Los Angeles. Colombia on Saturday in Carson – but the only one who saw the heart of Berhalter’s World Cup roster decisions.

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Five of the participants here were in Qatar, but none of the others were under serious scrutiny last fall.

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“The coaches told me that they completely understand if I don’t want to go in and not want to be a part of it, which at first, that’s the reaction of every player,” Arriola said. “These past two weeks [before deciding], I got to the point where I accepted that I didn’t make the World Cup team. And I don’t want to let that hold me back.”

Arriola said, however, that if Berhalter asked, he might feel differently. Berhalter’s contract expired on December 31. Additionally, while the U.S. Soccer Federation continues to evaluate his performance — and the team’s — during his four-year tenure and whether to offer a new contract, Berhalter is being investigated for beating his ex-wife. . 1991

Berhalter’s disagreement with offensive lineman Gio Reyna’s family has added a second unsavory layer to the program’s leadership uncertainty.

“It would have been even harder for me to think about coming back if it was Gregg calling me,” Arriola said. Because of the relationship he had built with the staff as a whole and with the players over the years, he added, “there was definitely less hesitation.”

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Arriola recounted when Berhalter told him he didn’t make the World Cup team. Five days before the 26-man roster was announced, the home team had just finished camp in Frisco, Tex. It was Saturday. The players, Arriola said, were told they would learn their roster fate on Sunday.

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From the domestic camp, Arriola was the only serious contender to be cut – the rest were with European clubs – so Berhalter decided to tell Arriola the day before.

Arriola didn’t expect to hear one way or the other. He was killed. He said he told Berhalter: “I respect you as a coach. I respect you as a person, and I respect your decision. I agree with your decision. I think this it’s a mistake.”

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Arriola seems to have lost out to Jordan Morris, a Seattle Sounders striker who came out two games late in the World Cup.

Arriola watched the tournament with family in California, then began planning his wedding and the start of the MLS preseason. All the time, he said, he could not think about the future of his national team.

Two things influenced his decision to continue, Arriola said. One was an article in the Athletic in which midfielder Sacha Kljestan stated that his career is “10 times better” after being left out of the 2014 US World Cup squad. Kljestan returned to the team and scored two goals in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and capped a 17-year professional career last fall.

The second influential element came from his mother-in-law’s doctor. During a visit, the doctor asked if Arriola would continue to play for the national team. She said she didn’t know.

She narrated the doctor’s message to her son-in-law: “You just have to continue.” He should do it for you, for everyone who loves him and supports him and who thinks he should have been in the World Cup. He can’t let this get him down.”

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Arriola also spoke regularly with one of his close friends, DC United’s Russell Canouse.

“It was very sad and frustrating and it was just a hard time to get over it,” Canouse said. “The fact that he is in the camp now shows his personality and character.”

The current staff has turned to Arriola – and World Cup players Walker Zimmerman, Sean Johnson, Jesús Ferreira and Kellyn Acosta – to lead a group that includes 12 players aged 23 and under. On that list, Arriola’s 48 goals are second only to Acosta’s 55 and his 10 goals are his most.

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Unlike the five World Cup players who are here, “It’s a tough scenario [for Arriola] Because I can’t imagine what he went through, he didn’t go to the World Cup with us for a long time,” said Anthony Hudson, World Cup assistant who is in charge of this camp. “We asked if he would like it or how he would feel, but his response was as you would expect from such a good person and good character.”

Arriola, who turns 28 on February 5, admits he may not have a long-term future with the United States team. The next World Cup is 3 and a half years away.

“I understand that this is a transitional period between World Cups,” he said. “For me, it was more about living in the moment, letting this be a statement for myself and the people around me and playing for them – just enjoying this experience now.”


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