While he is making his debut for the U-23s, Paul Arriola is no stranger to the U.S. National Team program.
He represented the USA at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup and again at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Last week he took another step up the ladder when he earned his first call to the U-23 MNT, which will face Colombia in the Olympic Qualifying Playoff.
“When I first found out I was called in, I was obviously excited to be back with the National Team, but at the same time I kind of felt relieved,” said Arriola from camp. “For every player the goal is to represent your country, and for me, after the year that I had, to get the call up was kind of like all the hard work and sacrifice had paid off.”
The winger played in all five matches for the U-20 team that advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals before losing on penalty kicks to eventual champion Serbia. However, he was not one of the six members of that team who were called in to the U-23 MNT roster for CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament in October.
“I know it’s a big step from the 20s to the 23s, but the only thing I could really control is the way I played with my club,” Arriola explained of his mindset. “Then it’s up to the staff to make the decision to bring me in or not.”
Arriola went on to have a solid season with Club Tijuana in Mexico’s top flight. And then came two breakthroughs.
Former Mexican National Team head coach Miguel Herrera was hired to lead Tijuana this season. Arriola has become a regular, having played 11 of the 12 league games to date and starting the last two. He has also played in five Copa MX matches.
Arriola’s hard work in Tijuana paid off with a rare opportunity to make an impression with the U.S. National Team in January. The MNT was holding its annual January Camp and was set to scrimmage Club Tijuana behind closed doors at StubHub Center.
“When I first learned we were going to get a chance to scrimmage the Men’s National Team, I knew that it was going to be a chance for us to prove ourselves,” said Arriola, who is club teammates with MNT defender Michael Orozco and U-20 teammates Amando Moreno and Fernando Arce. “So it was more than just a scrimmage for us. It was more like a trial in our own environment and playing with the players that we’re really comfortable with. It was a great experience for me because the U.S. coaches were able to really look closely at us, and I definitely think it helped me get to where I am today.”
Every other player in camp aside from Arriola and Desevio Payne have previously been called to either a U-23 or senior team camp. Now the 21-year-old Arriola is ready to take the next step.
“Of course it’s going to be hard being my first camp and being with the team for 3-4 days before the game,” he said. “But like (U-23 MNT head coach) Andi (Herzog) says, we have to be a group – and whether you’re on the bench or a starter or in the stands – you have to be the biggest supporter. I think that’s a big trait that I have, that I am always willing to help my team in any way I can.”
The U-23 MNT will face Colombia on Friday in Barranquilla in the first leg (5 p.m. ET - FS1, Univision Deportes Network), and will play the second leg on March 29 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas (8:30 p.m. CT, ESPN2). [TICKETS]