CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Paul Arriola had the easiest trip into Gregg Berhalter's first US national team camp, just a short drive across town from his home, but there's nothing easy about the work he's putting in to show the new US coach why he's vital going forward.
The D.C. United midfielder has been part of the pool for nearly three years and has grown in prominence during that time, and now's his chance to cement his place among the must-haves as the Yanks work toward this summer's Concacaf Gold Cup and, eventually, 2022 World Cup qualification.
Arriola, a wing attacker with speed, skill and an innate understanding of what's going on, seems to snugly fit the profile for the position within Berhalter's wing-heavy system, and he's excited to show the staff just how snug that fit is.
“I told him, ‘I think I'm a guy who can fit into a system, many systems, but specifically your system,'” Arriola said before the USMNT’s training session Tuesday afternoon at Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center. “‘I think I can have a lot of success.' And he kind of told me that's what he thought as well and kind of why I'm here.”
Arriola has, in a little more than four seasons at Club Tijuana and with D.C. since August 2017, shown himself to be a deftly complementary attacker who can create, facilitate and finish when need be. His natural position is higher up the field, but D.C. United coach Ben Olsen used him at right back on several occasions last year, a testament to his versatility.
How does Berhalter see him?
“Not as a right back,” the U.S. coach said. “See him as an attacking player. I really like his tenacity to get behind the backline. I like his work rate, I like his ability to off-balance defenders and read the game in terms if when he has to make his movement behind the line. I think he's an attacking player.”
That certainly suits Arriola, but it was as a right back that he gained his understanding of Berhalter's scheme, at least the one employed during the coach's Columbus Crew SC tenure.
“Since being in MLS, I played against Columbus three times,” Arriola said. “Probably the most frustrating team I have played against. Really. I mean, one of those teams that you can't get anything going, you can't figure out what's really going on.
“Toward the end of [last season], I learned more about his system. I played against Gregg with D.C. in the [Knockout Round], and I played as right back. So I completely understood what the wingers were trying to do and how they were successful. On one of the goals, I was caught up in that, and that was due to the movements that were specifically set up for that.”
Arriola acknowledges there have been “times I haven't had the best performance with the national team, and there's been other times that I've had great performances.” He wants to be more consistent, and he believes he can do so under Berhalter.
“With Gregg, they give you the answer, they give you everything,” he said. “The preparation is there, it's just about execution. That's the most exciting thing. When you tell someone that [they] have to opportunity to make things happen in front of goal or help the team in the way you need to help, it's a wonderful opportunity.”