Paul Arriola returns to USMNT after World Cup snub


CARSON, Calif. — Paul Arriola received word earlier this month that an assistant for the U.S. men’s national soccer team wanted to talk to him about attending the annual winter camp.

It has been two months since Arriola made the last cut from Gregg Berhalter’s roster before the Americans ventured to Qatar for the World Cup – a decision he said left him “a bit shocked” and cried for an hour in his car.

Talk with BJ Callaghan will have to wait. Arriola is getting married the next day.

However, the timing is just right. His wedding to Akela Banuelos at an ocean view wedding in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, marked the beginning of a new journey, and now the national team is here to offer a A fresh start.

“We’ve been through a lot of situations where we don’t have a chance to decide where they go, do we?” Ariola said Tuesday. “I can’t control whether I’m in the World Cup squad, but I do have control over how I react.

“As a married man, when I hope to have children one day. I want them to be able to look at their father and say that his dreams really failed, and he chooses to stand up in response, still willing to participate in this project and Keep playing.”

Arriola did accept an invitation to this MLS retraining camp for the first time since the U.S. lost to the Netherlands in the World Cup round of 16 on Dec. 3. He was one of 24 players preparing for Wednesday’s friendly against Serbia in Los Angeles. Colombia are in Carson on Saturday – but the only ones to experience the heartbreak of Berhalter’s World Cup squad decision.

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“The coaches told me that if I didn’t want to play, didn’t want to be involved, they totally understood that, at the beginning, it was every player’s reaction,” Ariola said. “The past few weeks [before deciding], I’ve come to the point of accepting that I’m not in the World Cup team. I don’t want it to hold me back. “

Arriola did say, though, that he might have felt differently if Berhalter had asked him. Berhalter’s contract expires on December 31. Beyond that, Berhalter is under investigation for kicking his future wife in 1991 while the US Soccer Association continues to evaluate how he and the team performed during his four-year tenure and whether to offer a new contract.

Berhalter’s feud with the family of attacker Gio Reyna added a second, unpleasant layer to the uncertainty about the program’s direction.

“If it had been Greg calling me, it would have been harder for me to think about coming back,” Ariola said. Because of the relationships he’s built with his entire staff and players over the years, he added, “Of course, there was hesitation.”

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Arriola described the moment Berhalter told him he wasn’t in the World Cup squad. Five days before the 26-man roster was announced, a domestic team had just finished training camp in Frisco, Texas. It was a Saturday. Ariola said players were told they would learn their roster fate on Sunday.

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In the domestic camp, Ariola was the only serious contender to be cut – the rest were European clubs – so Berhalter decided to tell Ariola himself a day in advance.

Arriola wasn’t expecting to hear a sound of one kind or another. He is devastated. He said he told Berhalter: “I respect you as a coach. I respect you as a person and I respect your decision. I disagree with your decision. I think it was a mistake.”

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Ariola appeared to lose out to Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, who played twice in the World Cup.

Arriola watched the game with his family in California, then began planning his wedding and the start of the MLS preseason. All the while, he said, he couldn’t help thinking about the future of his national team.

Ariola said two things influenced his decision to move forward. One was an article on Athletic in which midfielder Sacha Kljestan described his career as “10 times better” after missing out on USA’s 2014 World Cup squad. Kljestan returned to the team and scored twice in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, and ended his 17-year career last autumn.

The second influencing factor came from his mother-in-law’s doctor. During the appointment, the doctor asked whether Ariola would continue to play for the national team. She said she didn’t know.

She relayed the doctor’s message to her son-in-law: “He just needs to keep going. He has to do it for you, for everyone who loves him, supports him, and thinks he should be in the World Cup. He can’t let this break him.”

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Arriola also speaks regularly with one of his closest friends, DC United’s Russell Canouse.

“He was deeply saddened and depressed and just had a hard time dealing with it,” Kanus said. “The fact that he’s in camp now shows his personality and character.”

The current staff turned to Ariola – along with World Cup players Walker Zimmerman, Shawn Johnson, Jesus Ferreira and Kaylin Acosta – for a team of 12 players aged 23 and under. Teams of players provide guidance. In this list, Ariola’s 48 appearances are second only to Acosta’s 55, and his 10 goals are the most.

Walker Zimmerman of the USMNT is a very good football player. He might be a better teammate.

Unlike the five World Cup players who were there, “it’s a tricky scene [for Arriola] Because I can’t imagine him going through this long without a World Cup,” said Anthony Hudson, the World Cup assistant who ran the camp. “We asked him if he would or how he felt, but he answered as you As expected from such a nice guy and character. “

Ariola, who turns 28 on Feb. 5, admits he may not have a long-term future with Team USA. There are still 3.5 years until the next World Cup.

“I know it’s a transition period between two World Cups,” he said. “For me it’s more about being in the moment and making it a statement for myself and the people around me and playing for them – enjoying the experience now.”


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