Paul Arriola - D.C. United - runs full of joy after seeing the ball hit the back of the net
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The fixer: How Paul Arriola became D.C. United's versatile, selfless star

WASHINGTON – If any singular moment has captured the essence of Paul Arriola’s first full season with D.C. United, it was one that immediately followed a crucial 3-1 win over Atlanta on Sept. 2.

Luciano Acosta scored a brace to lift D.C. to a crucial victory in their playoff chase. And having just finished his first MLS start as a right back, Arriola took yet another new role, on behalf of the FOX Sports sideline crew.

“They just asked me if I could translate,” Arriola recalled. “I was just kind of like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll go do it.'”

Thought of primarily as a attack-minded winger prior to the season, Arriola has played a box-to-box midfield role this year, and on Sunday found himself at right back again in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire.

Because of a season-ending injury to Oniel Fisher, there’s a strong chance Arriola will remain there when D.C. host FC Dallas at Audi Field on Saturday (4:55 pm ET | Univision – full TV & streaming info). It’s a luxury most teams wouldn’t expect from a player with Arriola’s U.S. national team pedigree.

“You don’t know how many players … [are] not willing to embrace a new role or a moment in a selfless way,” said D.C. coach Ben Olsen after the Atlanta match. “He didn’t even think about it. It was like, ‘All right, let’s go.’”

Not by design

This certainly wasn’t the vision outlined when Arriola decided to sign and transfer from Liga MX side Club Tijuana in August 2017.

Well before the addition of attackers Wayne Rooney, Yamil Asad and Darren Mattocks, Arriola viewed his move to D.C. as a chance to prove he could be a more productive winger on offense. The DP tag added some wanted pressure.

“You want to provide for the team,” Arriola said. “You want to give back and be the player that not only provides energy, but provides things that make differences in the game.”

By statistical measures, he’s succeeded, bagging 7 goals and 8 assists in a campaign made more complicated by D.C.’s varying positional needs.

“I’ve been very happy with myself, and I’ve been able to kind of do a lot of things,” Arriola said. “I didn’t think that I would start out being a starting right back at the moment, and I didn’t think I would be playing as a center midfielder at any time in the season.”

No U-S in T-E-A-M?

Arriola on USMNT duty in the 2017 Gold Cup | USA Today Sports Images

Where his willingness to be versatile could complicate matters is on the international front.

After playing his customary wide midfield position in the USMNT’s 2-0 friendly loss to Brazil last month, Arriola talked with interim coach Dave Sarachan and decided to leave camp early to play for D.C. in a midweek game against Minnesota.

He doesn’t believe that decision contributed to his omission from the team selected for October friendlies against Colombia and Peru. But he admits he left the Brazil game feeling slightly uncomfortable with his performance.

“There were certain things that I wasn’t so used to anymore,” Arriola said. “I’d been playing center midfield for a while in a system that’s very different, and then I started to play out wide here which is completely different than playing out wide for the national team.”

Ironically, it was Arriola’s desire to be a part of the youth national program a decade ago that first convinced him being flexible was a good thing.

A forward growing up on the Southern California youth scene, coaches pushed him to transition to a wide midfielder and then an outside back as he climbed the regional structure towards the US youth national teams.

“I’m thinking, well, if I want to be on the national team, I’m going to do my best at this position,” Arriola recalls. “They’re telling me this is where they see me. I’m not in charge here. I’m going to do my best to be on the team.”

LuchoRoo -- and Paul, too!

Arriola’s assets may be harder to discern for those understandably mesmerized by the partnership Rooney and Acosta have forged.

Acosta is making a strong case for award consideration with 9 goals and a team-leading 16 assists. Rooney has proven he has plenty left in the tank with 9 goals and 7 assists in 16 appearances. If that leaves Arriola as a third man of sorts, he insists he’s cool with it.

“For me, if they talk about Lucho and Wayne, it’s better,” Arriola said. “It takes pressure off the rest of the team, and these guys are playing great.

“When I’m playing great, it’s awesome, and when people want to interview me and talk about me it’s cool. But if they want to talk about Lucho and they want me to go in and translate for him, I have no problem with that.”