It was one half at Exploria Stadium on Saturday night, and FC Dallas trailed Orlando City SC 1-0 on a goal conceded just before halftime. But behind three goals in under 20 minutes – bookended by a Paul Arriola brace – FCD charged back for a 3-1 victory to take (at least for now) second place in the Western Conference standings.
And after the match, FCD head coach Nico Estevez pointed to the US men's national team winger in particular as critical in the comeback. He's now up to 7g/2a in 13 matches this year.
"This is why he's here," Estevez said of Arriola, who will spend his June international break in a USMNT camp as November's World Cup approaches. "This is why the club invested. We [were] clear [on] his potential and what he can do. He's the best winger in the league. And then he's showing up every weekend ... we are really, really happy to have him on our team."
Arriola, who arrived in a blockbuster trade from D.C. United in January, met that praise modestly. That deal was worth a league-record $2 million in General Allocation Money up front, as well as a potential additional $300,000 GAM in performance-based incentives.
"I wanted to come to Dallas, I wanted to be a part of something special, and I'm really just happy to be a part of this club," said the 27-year-old. "I just try and be the best player that I can be for my team for my teammates. And obviously, I try and try and continue to play well and stay healthy for my team and for myself. I'm just really going through a good moment and trying to capitalize on that and continue and kind of keep my head down and just keep going because we haven't accomplished anything yet. I haven't really accomplished anything."
Arriola enters a busier break than most of his teammates, joining Jesus Ferreira for the USMNT's international friendlies against fellow World Cup contestants Morocco (June 1 in Cincinnati) and Uruguay (June 5 in Kansas City). They also have two Concacaf Nations League matches vs. Grenada (June 10 in Austin) and away to El Salvador (June 14).
For Arriola, staying healthy is a concern, given his injury history and a recent wave of USMNT-MLS setbacks that includes Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson's Achilles injury all but ruling out his World Cup dream this cycle. Rising midfielder Djordje Mihailovic's early exit Saturday night in CF Montréal's win over FC Cincinnati might put his June call-up into peril, too.
"It takes a lot of discipline, a lot of sacrifice," Arriola said of his aim to stay healthy for club and country. "Especially for a guy like myself, who's recently obviously come back from ACL [surgery], and all last year dealt with tons of muscular injuries. For me, I think I finally found a really good rhythm and understanding of my body and what's needed, communicating, and also having the staff here and the club that are looking out for my best interest is key. I think everyone wants me to be healthy. Everyone wants me to be on the field. And so we have to manage that."
Jara finds scoresheet
Though Arriola was crucial on Saturday, and has been of late with six goals in his last five matches, Estevez also pointed to Franco Jara's goal contribution, noting that last weekend, following Dallas' 2-1 loss to Minnesota United FC, Jara texted him to apologize for his performance and promised to do better. Estevez reassured his Designated Player forward.
"I told him no worries, you know you're gonna give us a lot," Estevez said, adding he was incredibly happy to see Jara get on the scoresheet.
Jara, through a translator, praised Estevez for keeping a good relationship with him during a season in which he's been more utilized in a sub role than a starter due to Ferreira's ascendancy atop the Golden Boot presented by Audi race. Ferreira's on 9g/4a in 14 games.
"I have the confidence to be able to reach out to him and let him know how I felt," Jara noted, adding that Estevez continues to "never let [him] down" and shows himself to be on Jara's side.
A "dogfight" awaits
Once back from the international break, it won't get any easier for Dallas – they'll face Austin FC and LAFC in the span of five days on the road starting June 25, and there's also a Texas Derby match against Houston Dynamo FC looming on July 9.
"The West is going to be a dogfight," Estevez said. "Our focus right now is every single game, the next game is the most important, and also how we can improve as a team."
While he wants his players to reset and spend time with friends and family over the break, Estevez noted, "When they come back, we attack ... we go for the rest of the season."