Paul Arriola returns to USMNT after World Cup snub


CARSON, Calif. – Earlier this month, Paul Arriola received word that an assistant coach with the USA Men’s National Soccer Team wanted to talk to him about coming to their annual winter training camp.

It’s been two months since Arriola was on Gregg Berhalter’s final roster before the Americans left for Qatar for the World Cup — a decision he said left him “a little shocked” and crying in his car for an hour.

Will have to wait to talk to BJ Callaghan. Arriola was to be married the next day.

However, the timing was perfect. His ocean-view wedding to Akela Banuelos in Rancho Palos Verdes, California marks the beginning of a new journey, and now the national team is offering a fresh start.

“We go through a lot of situations, and we have no way of telling how they’re going to turn out, do we?” Arriola said Tuesday. “I couldn’t control going into the World Cup, but I controlled how I wanted to respond.

“As a married man now, I hope to have children one day. I want them to be able to look at their dad and tell them that his dreams didn’t come true and that he chose to respond by being willing to stand up and be a part of the program and continue playing.”

Arriola is the first to accept an invitation to this MLS camp since the United States lost to the Netherlands in the round of 16 at the World Cup on Dec. 3. He is among 24 players preparing for Wednesday’s friendly against Serbia in Los Angeles. Colombia is in Carson on Saturday — but Berhalter’s World Cup roster decisions are the only heartbreak.

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Five of the contestants here were in Qatar, but none of the others were seriously considered last fall.

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“The coaches told me that they understand that I don’t want to come in and that I don’t want to be a part of it, which is every player’s reaction at first,” Arriola said. “The last two weeks [before deciding], I have reached the point where I can admit that I was not included in the World Cup squad. I don’t want to let that hold me back.”

Arriola said he might feel differently if Berhalter asked. Berhalter’s contract expired on December 31. In addition, the U.S. Soccer Federation continues to evaluate his and the team’s performance during his four-year tenure and whether to offer a new contract. 1991 year.

Berhalter’s feud with offensive lineman Joe Reyna’s family has added another layer of unease to the uncertainty of the program’s direction.

“If Gregg had called me, it would have been even harder to think about coming back,” Arriola said. “Obviously, there was less hesitation,” he added, because of the relationships he’s built over the years with the staff and players as a whole.

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Arriola described the moment when Berhalter told him he had not made the World Cup team. Five days before the 26-man roster was announced, the home team had just finished camp in Frisco, Tex. It was Saturday. Arriola said the players were told they would learn the fate of the roster on Sunday.

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From the domestic camp, Arriola was the only serious candidate to be cut – the rest were at European clubs, so Berhalter decided to tell Arriola a day in advance.

Arriola didn’t expect to hear something. His stomach was full. 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 that’s wrong.”

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Arriola appears to have lost out to Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, who played at the end of two games at the World Cup.

Arriola watched the tournament in California with his family, then began planning his wedding and the start of the MLS season. According to him, he could not stop thinking about the future of his national team.

Two things influenced his decision to continue, Arriola said. One of them, in an article published in the Athletic newspaper, described midfielder Sacha Kljestan’s career as “10 times better” after missing out on the USA’s 2014 World Cup. Kljestan returned to the team and scored twice in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and ended his 17-year professional career last fall.

The second influential element came from his mother’s doctor. During the meeting, the doctor asked if Arriola would continue playing for the national team. He said he didn’t know.

She relayed the doctor’s message to her son-in-law: “He just has to keep going. He has to do it for you, for all the people who love and support him and think he should be in the World Cup. He can’t let that break him.”

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Arriola also spoke regularly with one of his best friends, Russell Canuz of DC United.

“He was very sad and disappointed and it was hard to deal with,” Kanuz said. “The fact that he’s in camp right now shows his personality and character.”

The current staff has turned to Arriola — and World Cup players Walker Zimmerman, Sean Johnson, Jesus Ferreira and Kellyn Acosta — to guide the 12-and-under 23-man squad. Arriola’s 48 games are second only to Acosta’s 55 goals on the list and his 10 goals are the most.

Walker Zimmerman of the USMNT is a very good soccer player. He can be a good teammate.

Unlike the five World Cup players, “It’s a tough scenario [for Arriola] because I can’t imagine him staying with us that long without going to the World Cup,” said Anthony Hudson, the World Cup assistant in charge of the camp. “We asked him what he wanted and what he felt, but his answer was as we would expect from such a good man and good character.”

Arriola, who turns 28 on Feb. 5, admits he may not have a long-term future with the U.S. team. The next World Cup is 3 and a half years away.

“I understand it’s a transitional period between World Cups,” he said. “For me it was about living in the moment, it was about making a statement for me and the people around me and playing for them – enjoying this experience right now.”


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