Columbus Crew's Jairo Arrieta says MLS experience gives him advantage vs. US national team
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Know thy enemy.
In the purest sense, Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta has to view the US national team that way when the teams meet in a World Cup qualifying match Friday in Commerce City, Colo. (10 pm ET, ESPN/UniMas)
Or, in the words of his Columbus Crew head coach Robert Warzycha, "There are no friends on the field."
But in another way, Arrieta is grateful for the life he and his family enjoy in the United States since he debuted for the Crew in July and feels that his move to Major League Soccer is a big reason he is playing for his country.
"I'm very happy to be here in this country, especially with the call-up to the national team," he told MLSsoccer.com through a team translator recently. "Being a part of MLS helped me get the call-up."
It's a win-win as far as the 29-year-old is concerned.
He's polished his game since joining the Crew and his production – 10 goals in 21 league matches, including nine (plus four assists) in 18 games last season – has not gone unnoticed back home.
And because of that experience, Arrieta has received an up-close look at some of the US national team's personnel through MLS games and his confidence has been boosted by the success he's had.
"Now that I'm in my second season in MLS I've learned a little bit about the style in MLS," he said. "I think it will help me understand better how the US national team plays. Hopefully, I'll be able to use that with the national team for the match."
Arrieta has already faced three of the American defenders who could play in the qualifier – he's faced Sporting Kansas City's Matt Besler three times and had two goals in those games, both coming in a 2-1 win at Sporting Park shortly after he arrived in July.
He also scored against Omar Gonzalez and the LA Galaxy on Aug. 15 but was held scoreless last Saturday by Justin Morrow and the San Jose Earthquakes.
"It's my first game against the US," Arrieta said. "I hope I play and play well and Costa Rica wins."
Of course, there's no guarantee he will even get into the match, even though he scored his first two goals for Costa Rica in the 2013 Copa Centroamericana in January, netting twice in group play to win the tournament's Golden Boot award.
He now has nine caps for his country, but not getting into the match Friday would make it easier for his Crew teammates to watch.
"You want to support your teammate but your home country comes first," goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said. "Maybe he has a good turn in the game, we save it and we go down and win 1-0. I'll take that."
Argentine forward Federico Higuaín, who joined the Crew a month after Arrieta, is also torn by loyalty.
"It's going to be mixed feelings because I have a lot of appreciation for Jairo," he said through a team translator. "But I also have a lot of appreciation for this country, so it's going to be what God wants."
Warzycha, former Polish international who is a naturalized US citizen, has no such dilemma when asked if Arrieta's presence has him pulling for Costa Rica.
"I'm rooting for the US, sorry," he said. "I hope he has a good game but the three points are going to stay here in the US."