U.S. U-17 MNT forward Paul Arriola has earned a place on the FIFA U-17 World Cup roster despite not playing a minute at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship due to a stress fracture. Now, back to 100 percent, Arriola started the USA’s opening match in Mexico, notching an assist against in the 3-0 win against Czech Republic. Ussoccer.com chatted with the Chula Vista, Calif.-native about his experience between Jamaica and Mexico, and what he’s learned along the way.
ussoccer.com: You had a bit of an injury during the qualifying tournament. How difficult was that for you to deal with?
Paul Arriola: “Going into Jamaica, it wasn’t really much of an injury and I was looking forward to playing. The injury came up and I wasn’t able to play. It was tough mentally and I was struggling a lot with the situation, but my teammates got me through it. It definitely helped me grow as a player and realize that I need to take care of my body. Soccer players don’t get to play for very long in their careers so it’s important to take of your body and to do everything to help yourself out.
ussoccer.com: How has that experience helped you grow as a person?
PA: “I make sure I’m eating well and that if I pick up a little knock, I’m taking care of it, getting treated and making sure I’m 100 percent. I think now I’m mentally stronger. Throughout Residency, since I got here, just battling for spots on rosters and working through tough situations has really helped me just to push through.”
ussoccer.com: You were one of the most experienced players on the team of players born in 1995 that went to France in May. What was that experience like?
PA: “We went to France for the Mondial Minimes and we faced Portugal, France and Japan in the group, so it was the tougher of the two groups. The group of ‘95s that were there I think was a little inexperienced, so the fact that I was at qualifying and had been through some friendlies, I was able to take more of an important role in leading that team. I tried to do that and I think I did okay with it.”
ussoccer.com: What did you tell your teammates going into that tournament, and what did you take away from that role?
PA: “What I told them was that you can’t underestimate teams, or think that a team isn’t that good because they lost to another team. Just to play and make sure we weren’t scared when we stepped on the field. There were a lot of people in France watching so you looked out in the crowd and it was a bit intimidating. We just had to try to stay calm and play the way we normally play. I think I’m more confident after that experience, both on and off the field. I had a pretty good tournament and so that gave me a bit of a boost.”
ussoccer.com: How did you find out that you were going to be part of this World Cup team?
PA: “Playing in Bradenton and practicing every day, even though there were signs that I was going to have a chance to be with this team at the World Cup, you have to just keep playing. We just had to play well and after that (Coach Cabrera) let us know.”
ussoccer.com: What is it like to finally be here in Mexico?
PA: “It is amazing. It’s a feeling I’ve never felt before. Coming into Residency, we always talked about the World Cup, but you never really think that you’re going to be there. When I found out I was coming, it was just amazing. I couldn’t believe it. Sometimes, still, I lay in my bed and think ‘wow, I’m at the U-17 World Cup.’ I’m just really excited to play. Not getting to play during qualifying, now I just can’t wait to get on the field and be able to be a part of the World Cup. I remember a couple of years ago, being at home and watching the U.S. play Spain in Nigeria, and I remember thinking that maybe I’d be doing that. But, it was a long way away then, and now that I’m here it’s just amazing.”
ussoccer.com: What is the feeling on the team right now?
PA: “It’s crazy. All the work that everybody has put in, we’ve been waiting so long. Some of the guys have been here for two years, I’ve been here for one year and some guys have been here for six months. It doesn’t matter though. We always work hard and we always dream. This has been a dream of mine to go to a World Cup and to know that I’ve made my dream come true is just a great feeling.”