Determined and persistent, much like his indefatigable presence on the field, Paul Arriola was intent on making a leap in 2020.
In D.C. United's transition to an existence post-Wayne Rooney and Lucho Acosta, Arriola challenged himself to step up.
"I want to be an elite player," Arriola told MLSsoccer.com in October. "This offseason I can’t stop. Next season I need to be an elite player, especially without Wayne Rooney. I feel ready for it.”
As fickle and cruel fate can be, an ice-cold bucket of water was poured on those 2020 aspirations for Arriola when the US international went down with a partially torn ACL in a preseason match on Saturday. Now, Arriola shifts to injury recovery mode, away from the bright lights and stadiums of supporters. A timetable for his return has not yet been set.
A few days back on February 15th, as many know, I suffered an ACL injury to my right knee that will take months to recover from. As of now it is still unclear on a timeline of events as we consult with doctors and physicians to figure out what the next best step is for.. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/RJ0sH2l03r— Paul Arriola (@PaulArriola) February 17, 2020
... myself, my career, and my knee. I want to thank everyone for their kind messages and prayers. I love you guys and I know 100% that I will be back stronger than ever. 💪🏼 (2/2)— Paul Arriola (@PaulArriola) February 17, 2020
While obviously dejected about missing significant time, he is resolute and took the news in stride, his perspective broadened in the aftermath of his father's passing in 2018.
Things are still alright. A source tells MLSsoccer.com that player and club had just kicked off negotiations over a new contract and, although talks have paused following the injury, they are expected to resume in due time.
Until then, D.C. United and the USMNT are forced into alternative options.
Up steps Julian Gressel
The injury to Arriola may clear up one of the biggest questions hanging over D.C. United heading into the 2020 season: in which position will Julian Gressel predominantly be deployed?
When the club acquired the uber-versatile creator, much discussions was had over whether he'd be a right back, winger, box-to-box midfielder or even a No. 10 at times. Gressel made his name as a right wingback creating chances at an elite level with Atlanta United and spent times in other positions when the club set up in a back four.
Thankfully, the club assembled solid depth across attacking midfield. Underneath Ola Kamara, D.C.'s first choice grouping will be Yamil Asad, Edison Flores and Gressel. Should those first two miss any time — both are recovering from knocks — Gressel would slot central with Ema Boateng and Ulises Segura inserted on the wings.
In the club's most recent preseason match, the group featuring mostly starters included Canouse at right back, Felipe and Moreno at defensive midfield and Gressel, Griffin Yow and Segura underneath Kamara. Flores and Asad did not appear.
A first choice XI without Arriola probably looks like this: