Paul Arriola honors late father celebrating his game-winner for DC United

WASHINGTON — As Paul Arriola got ready to depart Audi Field for the evening, he pulled on a T-shirt showing his mom wearing an Uncle Sam hat, embracing her son over the railing at Dignity Health Sports Park during US national team duty.

An hour earlier, the D.C. United wide man had also shown love to his late father while celebrating the goal that decided Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City.

“They get the double special, make them both feel special today,” he said at the end of a chilly, rainy but victorious Mother’s Day.

After his blast from the edge of the penalty area skimmed off the tips of Tim Melia’s outstretched fingers and curled into the top right corner, Arriola pulled off his right shoe, held it to his right ear and pointed skyward.

On the other end, he said, was Arturo Arriola III, who died last October at age 48.

“There are so many times when you just constantly think of them,” Arriola said of his dad. “Whether it’s me just driving into training listening to the type of music that I used to listen to with my father. Different things like that. I figured no better time than on national TV. And after I score a goal like that.”

The goal was Arriola’s second in as many games, third of the season, and 11th overall since joining D.C. in August 2017.

When he arrived at the Black-and-Red from Liga MX’s Club Tijuana, it was with an eye toward a club that would allow him to hone his end product. It’s been a gradual process. Sunday marked the exact anniversary of his first goal of the 2018 campaign.

“It feels good to have three so far,” said Arriola, who finished 2018 with seven to his name. “But more importantly, look, today was a complete team performance. It’s not about who wins it. It’s about which team wins."

That production might be more had not injuries or tactics forced Arriola into stop-gap roles. He served as a box-to-box midfielder early in 2018, at outside back in a four-back setup later last season, and as a wingback playing with three center backs at times recently.

Sunday’s debut of newly acquired outside back Marquinhos Pedroso allowed Arriola back into his preferred right midfield role though. And in a game that needed it, he provided a special moment usually expected from teammates like Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta. Rooney wasn’t particularly surprised.

“I think Paul is a bit better than the third option,” he said. “He’s a fantastic player for us and what he gives us. He gives us great energy and he’s a threat, and he creates great moments.”