OBETZ, Ohio — Left back Josh Williams eyed the diminutive new Columbus Crew forward for the first time in June and wondered if Jairo Arrieta could make the transition from Costa Rica to MLS.
“I wasn’t sure how effective he would be because the effective guys in this league are the athletic big guys, because a lot of the defenders are also big and athletic,” said Williams, who checks in at 6-foot-2, 192 pounds.
He doesn’t need any more convincing that Arrieta is not only surviving but thriving despite taking the expected pounding.
“The one thing that surprises me is the way defenders mark,” the 5-foot-9, 150-pound Arrieta told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday through a team translator. “There’s a lot of pushing, grabbing. They’re not giving me much space but I like the level of soccer in this league.”
Arrieta has eight goals in 15 games, including three two-goal games. One was against this coming Sunday’s opponent in Crew Stadium, Sporting Kansas City, in his third match on July 28 at Livestrong Sporting Park.
That’s significant not only because it gave the Crew a 2-1 victory, but the scores came prior to the arrival of Designated Player Federico Higuaín three weeks later.
While Higuaín’s presence has certainly given defenses another attacker to worry about, Arrieta has proven he can do well on his own if required.
“He’s the kind of player who can create chances for himself,” head coach Robert Warzycha said. “Look at the second goal Saturday from Andy’s kick (above). He battled a guy, took a second guy on and had a great finish. He likes physical contact.”
Arrieta capped another multiple-goal game against Philadelphia last week by taking a goal kick from Andy Gruenebaum with a defender on his shoulder. Arrieta shirked him and another defender, cut left and fired a shot into the far corner.
Despite a solo effort like that Arrieta, said the addition of Higuaín has been invaluable.
“It’s very helpful to have Federico, to have Milo [Mirosevic] underneath me because if I make a good run either one of those guys can find me,” he said.
If there is a criticism of Arrieta it’s his propensity for being offside. He leads the league with 39 offenses but has had only one in the past two games after being whistled four times vs. Chivas USA on Sept. 19.
Williams, though, sees Arrieta’s aggressiveness as a positive.
“If you’re running the line and you’re a step off, as a defender, that makes me think we’ve got to be more careful,” Williams said. “I’m fine with it. It keeps the defense honest.”