WASHINGTON–D.C. United defender Russell Canouse pushed in FC Dallas’ penalty box waiting for the free kick from captain Wayne Rooney. The ball soared over the heads of both teams and off the body of a Dallas defender. Canouse hit the ball near-perfect, but instead of celebration, the midfielder watched the shot bounce off the crossbar.
Quickly, defender Steve Birnbaum hit the ball back toward goal, hitting off another Dallas player before bouncing up to the head of Canouse, who finished it for the game-winning goal. The score was more than Canouse’s first MLS career goal, it was a nod to his teammate and best friend, Paul Arriola.
“It was a special moment for me,” Canouse said. “But that goal was for him.”
Arriola missed United’s last week of matches. On Wednesday night before the FC Dallas game that weekend, Arriola got a late-night call from his mom. His father, Arturo Arriola III, had passed away. He was 48 years old.
“I was in pieces,” Arriola said. “In the middle of the night, I booked the quickest one-way flight home to California.”
Arturo was a family man loved by those around him. He always worked hard and only showed stress while watching his beloved San Diego Chargers. He was also an alcoholic.
Alcoholism runs in Arriola’s family. His great-grandfather passed away of cirrhosis of the liver, and Arriola believes his dad died of a heart attack resulting from his addiction. The continued drinking also caused Arriola’s parents separated while he was playing in Tijuana. Despite the separation and recently losing his job due to a DUI, Arriola and his dad kept in contact. They chatted recently about how cool it was that Arriola was playing alongside Manchester United legend Rooney.
It was Rooney who suggested the team don black armbands in honor of Arriola and his family in the game against FC Dallas.
“My mom and I had joked about it as we were watching the game on Saturday against Dallas. I told her that they were going to wear the armbands for Dad. We joked around how my dad would have hated it,” Arriola said. “To me, it showed a lot of love of the type of family feel that D.C. has the organization, the club, the people in it.”
Fittingly, Arriola’s closest friend on the team scored the winning goal while wearing the armband to honor him.
“I know I can support him through this time,” Canouse said. “It is a tough one, but he has every single player in the locker room, staff member, we are all here for him.”
Canouse also knows what it is like to lose a parent. His mom passed away in 2012 after a battle with lung cancer.
“In that game, out of everyone to score, it had to be Russel to get his first goal,” Arriola said. “How amazing. What a special moment. I felt like it was a sign from God, a sign from my father, a sign from his mother. It brought so much joy in the moment.”
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What a moment to get my first MLS goal! Such a hard fought effort from the team! Thanks to all the fans for sticking behind us all 90 minutes!! ⚫️🔴 @paularriola we got two angels looking down on us now. I think they helped put that ball over the line tonight. We aren’t done yet!!! #playoffpush
In the last week, United secured two wins against the top of the West and the bottom of the East, and pushed themselves above the playoff line with two games left in the season.
While United basked in the glory of its recent success and newly-captured sixth seed on the field, the challenges off the field continued. In the last week, in addition to Arriola’s absence, United defender Oneil Fisher faced a season-ending knee injury, and Chris Odoi-Atsem shared his stage-2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis.
“The club you know has been tremendous not just to me but to my family,” Arriola said. “It’s something that my family was very grateful for just because they feel more like a family here in D.C.”
Arriola will be available this weekend as United closes out its final regular season home game at Audi Field against New York City FC. United controls its destiny but must continue to win to make it into the postseason with just two more games. As for Arriola, he will play in memory of his father.
“My Dad would want me to keep going. He was so proud,” Arriola said. “It gives me even more of a purpose to play. I know that I’ll continue to make him proud, and I know he’s he’s watching out there.”
Where: Audi Field–Washington D.C.
When: Sunday, Oct. 21 at 3 p.m. ET
Watch: WJLA 24/7 & ESPN+
Predicted Starting XI: Bill Hamid; Bill Hamid; Joseph Mora, Steve Birnbaum, Frederic Brillant, Nick DeLeon; Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse; Yamil Asad, Luciano Acosta, Paul Arriola; Wayne Rooney