After playing portions of this season out wide and also in a box-to-box midfield role, injuries convinced D.C. United coach Ben Olsen to slide Arriola to right back during Sunday night’s crucial 3-1 victory over Atlanta United.
And after a dogged performance in which he helped stymie record-breaking striker Josef Martinez and won a crucial penalty on the offensive end, Arriola returns to the US fold happy to give Sarachan a different look.
“I assume I’ll be out wide,” said Arriola, who has played pretty much exclusively on the right flank in US matches. “I’m sure the first couple days there, I’ll have a chat with Dave and the rest of the staff to try and figure out what their view is. From my point, I feel confident wherever they put me.”
Arriola had previous experience playing right wingback in a back five system for Club Tijuana in Liga MX.
“When the ball was on the weak side, not on my side, I constantly had to shift in and we created a line of four,” Arriola said of his role at Tijuana. “So I’m very used to that, tucking in and being close and not being so open. Obviously with the ball it’s a little bit different because my starting position is a little further back [in a back four].”
ATL creating a bit more down #DCU's left (at least in terms of quantity), against a natural LB & a more defensively-oriented LW, than against Arriola & Stieber on the right. pic.twitter.com/RB3pr6Sa0z— Black and Red United (@blackandredU) September 3, 2018
While D.C. appears unlikely to adopt a three-center-back approach, the US has played with it at times, most notably in a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw vs. Mexico at Estadio Azteca in June 2017. However, on that night Arriola started in right midfield above DeAndre Yedlin in a 5-4-1 setup.
In a four-back system, Olsen opted for the 5-foot-6 Arriola partly because of his likely mark, Atlanta’s 5-foot-7 teenage winger Ezequiel Barco.
“I think it was a good matchup, a smaller, quick guy,” Olsen said afterward. “I don’t know if we can get away with that every game. But I thought he held up just fine.”
United rarely had enough of the ball before halftime for Arriola to make runs forward, but after gaining some more possession early in the second, it was his foray up the wing that drew D.C.’s go-ahead penalty.
He remained more active offensively for the duration, but afterward said maybe he'd been too aggressive at times.
“I think there were two plays where I ended up on the other side of the field,” Arriola said. “And I was just like, ‘Man I can’t be doing this.’ And I see poor Zoltan [Stieber] in the back covering for me.”
Said Olsen: “It’s a position where you let the game tell you when to go. … But he also has to understand we have a lead at times, and Barco’s over there. And [Miguel] Almiron with the in and out running in behind is as scary a run in this league to go against. You saw one or two times he got caught out of position and they were in good numbers up situations that could’ve bit us, but we held the fort tonight well.”