Even before the 2015 offseason began in earnest for D.C. United, the team already knew they would be without a key component up top for the early portion of this season. After physically jousting with an assistant referee following D.C.'s loss to the New York Red Bulls, forward Fabian Espindola was slapped with a six game MLS ban.
Still, when United swapped Orlando City an international spot for Jairo Arrieta in January, the deal looked like it was United protecting their depth for Espindola's absence. But as the team got back into preseason training, it became clear that designated player Eddie Johnson was ailed by an illness, and Luis Silva was struggling to recover for a hamstring injury. So when it came to the first kick of the 2015 MLS season, Arrieta was called upon by manager Ben Olsen to make a start against the Impact.
"I thought he was great," Olsen said of Arrieta's performance, in which the Costa Rican striker notched the only goal in United's 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact. "All we are really asking him to do is connect passes. Be in good spots, make it difficult on the two center backs, and then get it to our wide midfielders or the underneath forwards. He did that tonight, and I thought he took the goal very well. That was a tough finish, and that's two goals in two games, so he is feeling pretty good about himself."
Arrieta's finish came in the 58th minute, and it finished off quite an impressive counter attack for United. After keeper Bill Hamid was forced into an awkward save at one end, United used 14 seconds, seven touches, and four passes to get the ball into the back of the net at the other end.
The finish by Arrieta was made possible by a deft chip over the back line from midfielder Chris Rolfe. Then, with Montreal keeper Evan Bush barreling out of his goal, Arrieta touched the ball by him, and it rolled into the empty goal for the eventual game winner.
"The goal was a good move by myself, and a great pass from Rolfe," Arrieta told the media through a translator after the game. "He's a great player, so he can do that. He was able to see me, and see the keeper coming out, and I was able to touch it past him."
After the game, teammates all around were gushing about Arrieta, and his performance against Montreal. In fact, his goal against Montreal was his second in two games, as he found his Black-and-Red opener on Wednesday against Alajuelense in the CONCACAF Champions League, giving United a fleeting moment of a chance to advance to the semifinals.
"When I found out we signed Jairo in the offseason, I was very excited," veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud said after the game. "Watching him play over the past years, I've always admired the way that he plays the game, and I was wondering how we got him. I think he is very good, and you need depth."
On Saturday, Arrieta started the game alongside Chris Pontius, United's longest serving player. And while Arrieta got his goal, he twice set up Pontius with opportunities for goals for Party Boy.
In the first half, he hassled Montreal center back Laurent Ciman into a turnover, before feeding Pontius, who fired wide. Then, moments after his goal, a wonderfully placed pass from Arrieta was chested down by Pontius, but slammed off the underside of the bar before Bush covered up the rebound.
For a tandem that is just starting to learn about each other, it was almost the perfect start.
"I think the relationship with Pontius is good," Arrieta said. "We haven't known each other for very long, but we are combining very well, and we're getting to know each other and making good plays."
Pontius was left ruing his missed chances after the game. For a player who has scored just three times in the past two years while ravaged with injuries, it would have been the perfect start in Pontius' 7th season with the Black-and-Red.
Instead, his goal will have to wait until at least March 22, when United head up north to face off against old rivals, the Red Bulls.
"On a day where I am more clinical, I could have put two of those away, and put the game away earlier," Pontius stated after the game. "I was praying the ball was in [on his chance from Arrieta's chip]. And I was hoping it would bounce back towards me, but it just didn't get a big enough bounce. When I'm sharp, I think I put that away."