GUADALAJARA, Mexico – For Paul Arriola, the thrill of signing a professional contract with Club Tijuana was a dream come true. But unlike most players, that joy was in part because it was the end of a somewhat agonizing process.
The 18-year-old LA Galaxy Academy forward spent “months and months” weighing up the positives and negatives of not just two clubs, but two different countries and distinct career paths.
Last week, the U-17 World Cup veteran chose to sign with Tijuana – the club geographically closer to his hometown of Chula Vista, Calif. – rather than with the Galaxy, who had offered him a pro contract.
“I felt that Xolos was the place for me,” he told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Monday. “I love the club, it's my home team and the people down there are wonderful.”
Arriola’s decision allows him to live with his family on the US side of the border, which he will cross for training and matches.
For Tijuana sporting director Ignacio Palou, mining the US for talent – Xolos now have three members of the US squad that participated in the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup – is fundamental for the club moving forward and Arriola’s signing is just the latest example.
“It’s a great opportunity for them and us to be able to have players like Paul,” said Palou in a statement released by the club. “We already have Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo, Greg Garza, Alejandro Garza and Esteban Rodriguez as good examples. Jurgen Klinsmann visited us in the last Copa Libertadores game. That shows U.S. Soccer is following us and that, too, is an important factor in our growth.”
Arriola will occupy one of the foreigner berths in Tijuana, but he is currently in the process of gaining his Mexican citizenship through his grandfather, whose parents moved to the US from Mexico.
Initially, Arriola will join up with Tijuana's Under-20s – where fellow U-17 World Cup veterans Guido and Rodriguez currently play – but is already setting his sights on making a first-team debut.
“I believe the Under-20s is where I will start," he said. "The club has talked to me about a certain way that they feel is going to be the right way for me to continue to develop and I trust in them. I will play with the 20s until they believe it's the right moment to debut and play with the first team.”
Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski told MLSsoccer.com on Friday that Arriola leaving was a disappointment for the franchise, but the San Diego-area native says he nothing but good feelings toward the club and is grateful for his time in LA.
“I thank the Galaxy for giving me a wonderful opportunity to train with their first team and be a part of their first team which really taught me a lot," Arriola said, "but ultimately, I believe that Tijuana is the best place for me and my future."
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.