D.C. United fans have been demanding big moves all season, and they’re getting their wish just hours before the end of the transfer window. USMNT midfielder Paul Arriola has signed with the Black-and-Red on a club-record transfer from Club Tijuana. Arriola, 22, has been signed as a Young Designated Player and will reportedly require a transfer fee somewhere between $3-3.5 million dollars as well as a $1 million salary.
On top of that outlay to make the deal work with Xolos, United had to make a separate deal with the LA Galaxy. Due to a Homegrown offer the Galaxy made during a handful of months in which he was a member of their academy, LA retained his MLS rights in perpetuity. To land those, United had to send a whopping $500,000 in total allocation money. We do not yet have a breakdown of how much of that is GAM or TAM, and whether it’s broken up by year.
Arriola is an emerging regular with the USMNT, starting each of the three knockout round games during this summer’s Gold Cup. It seems highly likely that he will be called up by Bruce Arena for the next batch of World Cup qualifying matches in early September.
Arriola is largely a right winger, but he can easily switch over to play on the left and has even had the occasional appearance with Tijuana in a central role. Per the scouting report provided by FMF State of Mind’s Eugene Rupinski earlier today, Arriola can adapt to different formations, playing in a 352 and 4222 under various Xolos coaches as well as the 442 and 4231 that Arena has toggled between. For United, whether Ben Olsen sticks with the 4231 he’s preferred for the past couple of months or returns to the 4141 seen previously, Arriola should have no trouble fitting in tactically.
Arriola, after returning from the Gold Cup, went straight into Tijuana’s starting eleven, playing the full 90 on the weekend in a 3-0 loss at Monterrey. Last year, in the Apertura, he was not given any starts but subbed into nearly every game for a team that finished atop the regular season standings only to be upset by Club Leon in the Liguilla quarterfinals.
In the more recent Clausura, Arriola started 13 games of 17 total games, subbing into 3 more, and scored 2 goals for a side that again won the regular season but this time were knocked out in the semifinal of the Liguilla by Tigres. In those four postseason matches, Arriola started twice and subbed in once.
Arriola is known for a direct, but not inelegant style of play. He wants to get up the field quickly, and uses his ability on the ball to both combine with others and dribble to make it happen. If that sounds familiar, it’s pretty much the ideal description of a winger in the style of play we saw out of United during the back half of the 2016 season. Olsen had a team that was not so much interested in piling up possession as they were about attacking teams with speed and creating as many final third entries (i.e. the attacking team intentionally enters the final third in possession of the ball) as possible.
The fee and salary - Arriola is both the club’s most expensive signing of all time and their highest-paid player today - will of course put immense pressure on Arriola’s shoulders. He has just 4 goals in Liga MX play across 3,282 total minutes (along with 2 in the CONCACAF Champions League and 2 in Copa MX play), and United will need him to chip in at a higher rate. However, it’s important to remember that he’s just 22, and spent significant time playing on the right side of a 352, which means staying wide and getting fewer looks at goal. United is obviously betting big on that side of his game improving.
Signing Arriola caps off a wild spell for the Black-and-Red, who have made some major moves in this transfer window. Bruno Miranda, a 19 year old attacker with 3 caps for Bolivia, was the first move before things really picked up. Since then, United has also signed Zoltan Stieber, a 28 year old midfielder who is a regular for Hungary’s national team, and Russell Canouse (22) who played for the US under-20 national team and has a season of experience in the 2.Bundesliga under his belt.
Going the other way, United veterans Bobby Boswell and Lamar Neagle were traded to Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders, respectively. Another player in his thirties, Sebastien Le Toux, was attached to trade rumors over the past couple of days, but nothing materialized.
As a group, the moves have to be taken as indicating two things. First, United has clearly gotten younger:
Sparked by @reefa_k, here's #DCU probable best 11 by age now pic.twitter.com/5hQSY2Lovt— Black and Red United (@blackandredU) August 9, 2017
And perhaps more importantly, the days of United being unwilling to financially compete with MLS’s wealthier clubs are over. Arriola’s transfer fee shatters that illusion, as do the rumored eight-figure pursuit of Chile national team starter Gary Medel and the apparent willingness to pay a million-dollar fee to acquire Stieber before, somehow, not having to. Those are figures that give us a view of what ownership wants to do at Buzzard Point, and it’s a complete 180 from what fans and observers have become accustomed to.