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Arriola eager to get to Wales and contribute to Swansea

Paul Arriola has been through a lot the past year but the New Year has been kind to the Chula Vista native who is healthy, part of the national team again, and now getting ready to join Swansea City for its promotional run. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke with the winger about his past, his present,and his future. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 04, 2021
4:10 PM

A WEEK FROM MONDAY will mark the one-year anniversary of the worst moment of Paul Arriola’s career when he suffered torn ACL in his right knee during a preseason match against Orlando City. The ensuing nine months saw him endure a difficult rehab process and while he came back in the season finale, he was unable to help DC United secure a spot in the playoffs.

But from the ashes of a brutal year, opportunities crystalized. The winger took part in two national team camps, a rare one in December and then the traditional January camp where he worked alongside many top young U.S. U-23 players. He scored three goals in the two friendlies – one against El Salvador and two against Trinidad & Tobago.

Then following the conclusion of camp, Arriola secured a loan to Swansea City for the remainder of the Championship season. At the Welsh club, he will take part in a promotional race as Swansea City currently sits in second place and is looking for a top two finish which would guarantee a spot in the Premier League without the need to go through the playoffs.

But moving forward into a busy 2021 which will see him play with the U.S. national team in big games, head to Europe for the first time, and the possibly rejoin DC United under a new manager in Argentine Herman Losada, Arriola insists the difficulties of 2020 have given him a new perspective on his career he did not have before.

“It has definitely made me appreciate my career a lot more,” Arriola told ASN. “Through the ACL process, the only thing that I could really think about was just kind of getting better and getting stronger every day, getting back onto the field. And now when I'm on the field, I have I have a great appreciation for it. I've only played three games so far. My next one will be in Europe. But there's a there's a calmness to me now - especially with these last two national team games. There's a real calmness to my character when I'm on the field then and I'm not quite sure why. I'm not quite sure if that's because I'm just so grateful to be there and appreciate it and being able to go out there and play.”

Arriola is hoping to make the transatlantic flight later this week to join his new club later in the week. He will miss Friday’s huge clash between Swansea and league leaders Norwich City but there are still 20 games remaining in the Championship season. On top of FA Cup and possible playoffs, there will be the need for Swansea to use a wide range of players and stretches of the schedule will be condensed.

Thus far in his career, Arriola has played in Liga MX with Club Tijuana and then with DC United in MLS. He has been involved in big games such as the CONCACAF Champions League and the MLS playoffs and Liga MX. But the promotional hunt of trying to help a team qualify for the Premier League is completely different.

“My expectation is for me to go over there and help the team,” Arriola explained. “Obviously, I want to play and this is an amazing challenge for myself, something that I've never done before, which is something that's really driven me to really want to do it. Especially at a time like this. It's interesting. Right after a big injury, only a few games under my belt. I'm fully confident in myself and I think I can help the team. Hopefully I go over there and make an impact the team right away - however the coach wants to use me. I'm ready to play week in, week out again. I'm ready to play in a high-pressure environment as Swansea is fighting for promotion.”

It remains what will happen to Arriola after the conclusion of Swansea City’s season. His loan to Swansea does not contain an option to buy but negotiations to extend the loan or move for permanent transfer are always possible depending on how Arriola does and if Swansea secures promotion.

As for now, Arriola is scheduled to rejoin DC United this summer and the club is set to embark in a new era under young manager Hernán Losada, 37, who is coming off a successful run with Beerschot which he led to promotion into Belgium’s top flight and a push into the top half of the table.

Arriola has been with DC United since 2017 and last season the club parted ways with long-term manager Ben Olsen. Should Arriola return to DC United, he is optimistic for the future under Losada.

“The mood and the vibe around DC United right now - it's great,” Arriola said. “There's a lot of belief. There's a lot of high energy, good energy. And I think everyone is excited about Hernán Losada coming as a coach and kind of what he brings to the table and his principles and his belief in the system…. It's going to be a much more offensive minded team, obviously, and that is how Hernán likes to play. A tot of trying to break lines early and get into advanced positions as quickly as possible. I think the team is going to score a lot of goals. On top of that, the announcement of the groundbreaking of the new training facility, which is another which is another big step for the club. The club is doing a lot of things right now.”

On Friday, Arriola will be celebrating his 26th birthday and that age puts him as one of the national team’s veteran who has played during a difficult transitional era which has seen the departure of regulars such as Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Alejandro Bedoya, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, and Jermaine Jones while also ushering in a talented new group of players like Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Gio Reyna, and Sergino Dest.

Competition on the U.S. team is extremely tight these days and Arriola welcomes it as he believes it is healthy for all involved. Arriola is exciting for the future for the national team in large part because he sees both the success of Americans in Europe, including those who came out of MLS, as well as young players who are still based domestically – such as DC United teammates Moses Neyman and Kevin Paredes who are both first team regulars despite being born in 2003.

Looking back on the level which existed when he was on the U.S. U-23 team in 2015 and 2016 while also when he was playing with the youth teams of the LA Galaxy, Arriola is amazed by the progress he sees in the overall American game. He cites the elite players in Europe as well as what he saw from the U.S. U-23 team at the recent camp and what has noticed at DC United as all strong evidence.

As for what saw this sudden and sharp turn of American players, Arriola cites the improved opportunities at many domestic clubs but also the strong performances of the league’s exports which have changed the league’s reputation. Either way, he believes it will continue.

“I think a lot of it could possibly be due to the fact that there's a lot of young American players that are being successful in Europe right now,” Arriola said. “You look at Weston, you look at Tyler, you look at Christian. A lot of those guys are paving the way for these clubs to kind of look at MLS with a lot of confidence. You look at Alphonso Davies, and then you get Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson and all these guys going over there. And the more American or MLS players that are being successful over there, I think it's going to continue. People are really starting to respect the MLS, respect the players who play in it. They're looking at the league a lot, a lot closer than before. My initial thought is a lot of credit to those young guys in Europe that are being so successful.”

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