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D.C. United may not be reaching the type of offensive heights they’d like to so far in 2019, but there’s plenty to be proud from the first two months of the season as they currently sit level on points with the Philadelphia Union and Montreal Impact at the top of the Eastern Conference. Injury issues at the outside back positions have forced coach Ben Olsen to move away from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-4-3 and move several players around, but the glass is more than half full in his eyes.
“We’ve asked guys to do a lot of things, tactically, physically, out of their element. And pushed them to be flexible for the benefit of the team.” Olsen told reporters on Wednesday. “We’ve been able to do that, and I think we should get more credit for that than the negative spin that okay, we haven’t been able to score goals and play in the way we did early in the season.”
Paul Arriola is one player whose role shifted in April after a strong start in 2019 for club and country. He appeared primed to really amp up his offensive production after scoring for the United States in a friendly against Costa Rica and finding the back of the net once again in D.C.’s preseason and first official match.
Because of injuries to Chris McCann, Joseph Mora, and Leonardo Jara, Arriola has been asked to slide into the wing back position. The 24-year-old’s pace and ability to stretch back lines with intelligent runs is not absent by any means, but the switch has meant his starting position and defensive duties have impacted his output in the final third.
Arriola’s manager was full of praise for his willingness to contribute in any number of areas and perhaps temporarily sacrifice his growth offensively for the good of the collective.
“Take Paul for instance — he is a national team wide midfielder. And [he’s saying], ‘Coach if you need me at left wing back today, because their attack is pretty good down the right, and I can do that job, I’ll do that.. If you want me at right, I’ll do it.’ He understands that this isn’t a permanent thing, and same with Titi [Lucas Rodriguez], who has probably never played that deep in his life.”
Arriola was mic’d up during Wednesday’s practice ahead of round two with the Crew and provided a glimpse of what he brings to this D.C. United side. After bouncing energetically through drills and staying in constant communication with teammates throughout the training session, he took a few moments to speak about his mindset through the Black-and-Red’s first 10 matches and his position change.
“My mentality has always been the same: I’m a hard worker. I don’t think there’s any excuse for not working hard and even when you’re not having a good game you still gotta go out and give it all you have.”
That type of work rate has been evident throughout his career. It’s easy to see why Olsen is so fond of his young attacker, as the former D.C. midfielder has always prided himself on effort and leaving everything on the pitch. Arriola provides additional value as a positive presence both in and out of the locker room and having the ability to communicate with the Spanish speakers on the squad.
“I’m a team guy. I like everyone in the locker room. I think a key part to success on the field is having success off the field in relationships and friendships, and if I’m able to do that with the people who don’t speak English it’s a plus...to kind of bridge together any misunderstandings and stuff like that it really helps out.”