After a disappointing trip to the MLS is Back Tournament ended early, D.C. United delivered some good news to fans yesterday, confirming reports that the club had signed USMNT winger Paul Arriola to a contract extension. Arriola, one of United’s two Designated Players, is now under contract with the Black-and-Red through the 2023 season, with an option year for 2024.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but United’s announcement reiterated that Arriola will remain a DP for United. As of June 2019, the MLS Players Association listed Arriola’s guaranteed salary at $707,000, which would be in the DP range but also a figure that United could pay down with TAM if they were to add more players in the DP category. Currently, Arriola and fellow midfielder Edison Flores are the club’s two DPs.
Speaking to media yesterday, Arriola confirmed that negotiations began before his preseason ACL tear, and expressed gratitude that his injury didn’t result in United walking away from the talks. “I think that’s one of the main reasons why it was so easy for me to want to get a deal done with D.C. United,” said Arriola. “The club has been there for me through the hardest times of my life. And they’ve really been that family away from my family.”
The deal exhibits trust in both directions. Arriola’s name has come up from time to time in transfer rumors involving clubs in Europe and Liga MX, and he’s at the age where players getting that kind of attention look to move from MLS. As such, choosing to extend his contract is a major investment from Arriola towards the idea that he can achieve his career goals with United.
From D.C.’s side of the coin, the club is granting a three-year DP deal to a player who is currently rehabbing a torn ACL. That requires the belief that Arriola will come back as good or better than he was before his injury. Speaking for United, GM Dave Kasper said via team press release that “Paul has been an immense attacking player and fan favorite since he arrived at our club and we are thrilled to secure his long-term future. We know Paul will be back stronger than ever and we look forward to his return at Audi Field.”
For Arriola, the trust is mutual. “The D.C. United organization has been a real family to me. And for them, for the fans, Jason [Levien] and the owners, and Dave Kasper, everyone to really show belief in me after I had torn my ACL, and still believe in me. I think for me the loyalty goes a long way,” said Arriola. “I can’t thank them enough for putting the trust in me, and I’m 100% certain that I won’t let them down.”
There has also long been pressure on MLS players who are in the USMNT picture to pursue spots in Europe, particularly during the Jurgen Klinsmann era. Arriola said he hadn’t been in touch with Gregg Berhalter or anyone in the USMNT set-up to discuss their perspective on his signing an extension with United, but also emphasized that he didn’t see there being any problems on that front. “I want to play a real role in this club on being successful. Obviously, if we’re successful as a club, most likely that’ll mean that I’ll play some type of part in that. So, you know, for me it’s extremely important to be on the field and be successful, because I know if I can do that, I can continue to get my chances with the national team and be a D.C. United player that’s able to represent the club on a world level hopefully in 2022.”
Before that, though, Arriola’s mission is to get back on the field. The Chula Vista, CA native said that he had just passed the five month mark in his recovery, and that things were going well. “I feel like I’m really making some good progress,” said Arriola. “Everyone kind of works at their own pace... I’m on the field now, I’m able to start running and doing a lot of cardiovascular on the field, not so much on a treadmill anymore, which is nice. I get to lace up the boots every once in a while and do some passing.”
Still, Arriola hasn’t set a specific timeline for his return, taking the view that “it’s my own process” and that the important thing for him to do is focus on what he can control. “Even before I had surgery, you know this is going to be a long road and it’s going to be a road that I pretty much go on by myself, with my family, with the trainers who are helping me, and I can’t worry about too much on what the team is doing,” explained Arriola.
No one ever wants a major knee injury, but the timing of Arriola’s injury, coming on the eve of a season that has seen players mostly stuck training in isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, has made narrowing that focus a bit easier. “I was able to focus on therapy. I didn’t have to really see anyone, obviously because of everything that was going on. So for me, I was really able to zoom in and just focus on myself and focus on rehab... So for me it’s been a blessing it in that way, and now that I’m slowly starting to get back on the field, I expect to hopefully see a little more of the team, but still, it’s a long journey. I still have a long ways to go.”
Once Arriola gets back, he says his goal is to repay the club’s loyalty. “I think the organization has always given me respect, and you know I feel very fortunate to be able to get a deal done during everything that’s going on. I think there is a lot of uncertainty about where we go, and obviously different leagues and clubs revenues and all that stuff, but for me, I feel like I have a job in this club that’s still not finished,” stated Arriola. “I want to win. You know, I want to be a part of a club that wins, and I believe in the people that we have and the people that we’ve had for the past couple years. I think we can continue with a strong core of players and be successful.”
It helps that the region has become a home away from home of sorts for Arriola, who previously played in southern California and just over the border with Xolos in Tijuana. “If it wasn’t feel like home I don’t know how long I would have made it here. I love the D.C. area,” said Arriola. “I really embrace the city of D.C., just everything about it. I love the fans, I love the vibe.”
Ultimately, though, it boils down to excitement for his future with the club itself. “I’m ready to make more experiences and win more games, and hopefully win a trophy here, at [Audi Field],” said Arriola. “It really is my second home. Obviously I’m from California, it’s a little bit [far] away, but like I said, the D.C. organization and everyone in the club has been tremendous and great with me, and I can’t thank everyone enough. The type of family vibe that they’ve given me, and the love and the support that everyone has shown me. So definitely very thankful to be here and be a part of this club and I hope to continue to return the favor and the trust that the ownership and the club is put into me, as well as the fans. Give them a little more excitement and obviously like I said, win a trophy.“