WASHINGTON — D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola chose to leave the United States men’s national team camp ahead of Tuesday’s rivalry friendly against Mexico in order to rejoin D.C. United as it starts a crucial seven-game home stand.
“I knew after the Brazil game that [United] was only going to have 15 players for the New York City game,” Arriola said, adding that U.S. interim coach Dave Sarachan approached him to ask how he felt about the situation. “He let me know that I was probably going to be on the bench against Mexico.”
Although he understood and valued the rivalry, Arriola has faced Mexico before and found his club’s need outweighed his role on the national team in a friendly against El Tri.
With a condensed second half to the MLS season, United is the only team that had to play two matches during the international break.
Arriola returned to United after starting in the United States’ 2-0 loss Saturday to Brazil. The next day, United listed just 15 players on the game-day roster in a 1-1 draw with NYCFC.
“He left the decision up to me whether I wanted to stay or go,” Arriola said of Sarachan. “I thought about it for a little while. It was obviously tough, but in the end, it just made more sense for me to come back.”
Arriola doesn’t take the recent call-up lightly and was “just thankful to be there once again” representing his country.
The last 11 months have been a period of transition for Arriola’s club and country. While United ushered in a new stadium in July, Audi Field, and hit a late-season stride with eyes on the playoffs, the U.S. men’s national team has been in a perpetual search for answers.
For a player like Arriola, 23, who earned his first senior cap with the U.S. on Sept. 6, 2016, against Trinidad and Tobago, the transition time has been frustrating. While he acknowledged the great honor that came with his most recent national team call up, Arriola shared some of the more complicated feelings of a player looking to be a part of the U.S. national team’s future, particularly since the organization has yet to name a head coach in the almost year since failing to qualify for the World Cup and getting rid of former coach Bruce Arena.
“One hundred percent it’s frustrating,” Arriola said. “If we did have a coach in place now, then these games, we would learn a lot more about ourselves and the direction and where we need to grow. The way that we’re playing right now with [Sarachan], in a couple of months will be completely different with a new coach, whoever he is.
“It is frustrating to be in this zone where you just kind of go out there and try and make the most of your opportunity and represent your country the best you can. I don’t want to say that the camps feel meaningless because, obviously, they do have some meaning. It is an honor to be part of the national team, but at the same time, it’s one of those things where you kind of feel like it was wasted.”
In August, former Philadelphia Union sporting director Earnie Stewart left to become the men’s national team’s general manager.
“This was the first camp that Ernie Stewart was in charge as general manager. He was there with us. He was trying to be as open as he could with all the players and the staff,” Arriola said. “But he definitely didn’t give us any indication of who [the new coach] might be or when it might be.”
With 17 international appearances for the first team, Arriola was one of the more familiar players on the roster. He had the fourth-highest cap count in the starting XI against Brazil — behind DeAndre Yedlin (53), Bobby Wood (40), John Brooks (34).
The national team that Arriola played on 11 months ago was drastically different from the one that gathered last week — no captain Michael Bradley or goalscorer Jozy Altidore. Instead, this camp’s roster trended toward the youthful and fresh-faced.
“Last year, it was a little bit easier for me because it was constant players. It was always Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, and you knew what you were going to get out of each player,” Arriola said. “With these camps over the past year, it’s completely different.”
Arriola now turns his focus to Wednesday — when D.C. United hosts Minnesota United in the first of seven consecutive home games — and helping his club make a late season playoff push.
“The best thing that can happen to us is the seven-game home stretch right now,” Arriola said. “I don’t want to say I’m 100 percent certain that we’ll make the playoffs, but I have a very good feeling, and, I think, right now the whole team does.”