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Player Spotlight

Club Tijuana's Paul Arriola Is Making Some Big Strides

The 19-year-old Chula Vista, Calif., native found early success at Club Tijuana, struggled at times, and has learned to fight through adversity along the way. Brian Sciaretta spoke to the U.S. U-20 captain.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 17, 2014
12:16 PM
WHEN EXAMINING THE ROSTER of a typical under-20 national team, it usually features players who are either just starting their professional careers or are still waiting to sign for their first clubs. Typically, the late-teen years are transitional period in a player’s career where he is adapting to the rigors of the game as a way of life.

And then there's Paul Arriola.

Arriola, 19, is already achieving success in the highly competitive Liga MX with Club Tijuana's first team. The Chula Vista, Calif., native wore the armband for U-20s Wednesday night as it defeated UANL Tigres in the group stage of Dallas Cup, and he is emerging as one of the leaders of Tab Ramos' squad.

This is happening despite the fact that Arriola has been unable to play or practice with the U-20s prior to this week because of his professional obligations.

“I've definitely missed it,” Arriola told American Soccer Now. “Every camp that I’ve been invited to, I’ve always wanted to come. Now being a professional and having club responsibilities and having some success early in my career, it has put me in a tough situation to join the national team— whether it is just for friendlies, or whatever."

"It definitely feels good to be back. It brings back a lot of memories. Hopefully, I’ll create more memories with the national team.”

The Dallas Cup is a familiar setting for Arriola, who played in it twice before with the Los Angeles Galaxy’s academy team. Due to commitments with Tijuana, he arrived late in camp and played in the U.S. U-20s' second game, a 3-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, as well as Wednesday's 1-0 win over Tigres.

In the Apertura part of the Liga Mx season last fall, things seemed to come easily to Arriola, who had a terrific preseason for Tijuana and was given a lot of playing time at the start of the season.

The current Clausura season, however, has been far more challenging and Arriola has had to fight for minutes while being shifted between Tijuana’s first team, its U-20 side, and a second division Doroados team for Copa Mx games. In bouncing around, Arriola has not been able to settle down and find a routine or rhythm.

Sometimes when he is called up to the first team, Arriola will be an unused substitute; at other times he will start in high-profile games in the CONCACAF Champions League. Getting used to the irregularity of playing time and sudden demotion to youth teams followed by important responsibilities has forced Arriola to mature quickly.

“Right now it is a mental battle for me with playing time,” Arriola explained. “From last year playing a lot, to this year not playing a lot, it has been tough. I just came from a streak where I wasn't on the roster for the first team for four or five [league] games. Then I just get thrown into a starting spot in a CONCACAF semifinal. It's definitely something that you have to take care of and remember [that] everything is a coach's decision and if he puts me in, I have to be there. And that's something I've kind of struggled with, to be honest.”

“It kind of messes with your confidence,” he added. “It kind of puts you up and puts you down at times. It's definetly something that's tough, but I see it as an experience.”

“It kind of brought me back down to where I need to be—still a young kid who needs to improve on being consistent. Obviously that comes with having consistent playing time. But you have to earn that.”

Club Tijuana features a lot of Americans on its roster and left back Greg Garza is one Arriola’s closest friends on the team. Garza is impressed with Arriola’s ability and potential, and feels that he, like so many others, will mature from receiving more opportunities to play.

“That's the career of a footballer,” Graza said. “Some seasons can be really good, and I think his very first season as a professional couldn't have been better. I think many people, even he, didn't think he would have the opportunity to play. I think the coach giving him that confidence really helped him grow as a player and as a person as well.”

“He's still very young,” Garza continued. “And so this season he hasn't played that much but when he has had the opportunities, he's gone in and done his best—which is what matters the most. For such a young player like him to gain the experiences he is gaining playing against top-notch players in the Mexican division definitely helps his grow as a player."

"The talent and the potential are definitely there," Garza added. "He is a player that still can grow so much. I think every game he has had the opportunity to play, he has given it his all and done very well for the team.”

Adjusting to the ups and downs of professional soccer can be difficult but Arriola has shown great resilience so far. He has learned the importance of maintaining perspective and striving for consistency, and it shows.

“You have to show your consistency,” Arriola said. “With many young players, you can have a good game and everyone is talking about you and the next three, you can have off games.”

This hard-won maturity no doubt contributed to Arriola being named team captain for Wednesday’s win over Tigres. He has had early success, he has struggled at times, and he has bounced back from these struggles—and he insists that right now he is “very confident” as a professional player.

A veteran of the 2011 under-17 World Cup team that played in Mexico, Arriola knows most of his U-20 teammates quite well and believes they have a good chance of qualifying for the 2015 U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. He is particularly impressed with the depth of this team and notes that the internal competition for spots in the starting lineup is raising everyone’s game.

“This cycle there are a lot of professionals,” he said. “Some are not getting too much playing time but at the same time, they’re training with first teams and learning what it’s like to be in a professional environment where you’re fighting for a spot every day, learning from veterans who have played in World Cups. Eventually the more time we’re together, we’ll get better.”

There is also another prominent goal for Arriola and that is the full U.S. national team which some analysts considered him to be in contention for a callup last year. He acknowledged that it was on his mind last year, but he also knows that he is most likely a prospect until the next cycle.

“It’s definitely something I think about,” Arriola said. “Last year when I was playing a lot, I thought it would be a possibility but I know without getting a lot of playing time, I’m guessing it is still kind of a long shot."

"I still need to prove myself more on the professional level," he continued. "If I am able to do that more with my club and the U-20 national team with Tab being part of the men’s national team coaching staff now, I definitely think it’s possible in the future.”

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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