Paul Arriola returns to USMNT after World Cup snub

Suspension

CARSON, Calif. — Early this month, Paul Arreola received word that an assistant on the United States men’s national soccer team wanted to talk to him about coming to the annual winter training camp.

It was two months since Areola was among the last cuts on Greg Berhalter’s roster before the Americans ventured to Qatar for the World Cup – a decision he said left him “a bit shocked” and crying in his car for an hour.

Conversation with BJ Callaghan will have to wait. Areola was getting married the next day.

However, the timing was right. His wedding with Akela Banuelos in a setting overlooking the ocean in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, marked the beginning of a new journey, and now here the national team is offering a fresh start.

“A lot of the situations we’re in, we don’t have the opportunity to dictate how it goes, right?” Arriola said Tuesday. “I didn’t have control over whether I would be in the World Cup squad, but I did control how I wanted to respond.

“As a married man now, that’s when I hope to have kids one day. I want them to be able to look at their dad and say he literally had his dreams screwed up and chose to respond by getting up and continuing to prepare to be part of the program and continuing to play.”

Areola accepted the invitation to this MLS heavyweight camp, the first since the USA lost to the Netherlands in the World Cup Round of 16 on Dec. 3. He’s among 24 players preparing for friendlies against Serbia on Wednesday in Los Angeles and Colombia on Saturday at Carson – but he’s the only person who has suffered the grief of Berhalter’s decisions on the World Cup roster.

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Five of those present were here in Qatar, but none of the others were given serious consideration last fall.

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“The coaches told me they totally understand if I don’t want to be in and I don’t want to be a part of it, and that’s in the beginning, that’s the reaction of every player,” Areola said. “The past two weeks [before deciding]I got to the point where I accepted that I didn’t make the World Cup team. And I don’t want to let that hold me back.”

But Areola said he might have felt differently if he had asked Berhalter. Berhalter’s contract expired on December 31. Furthermore, as the NFL continues to evaluate his performance – and the team’s – during his four-year tenure and whether to offer a new deal, Berhalter is being investigated for kicking his future wife in 1991.

Berhalter’s falling out with striker Gio Reina’s family has added an unwanted second layer to uncertainty about the program’s direction.

“It was the hardest thing for me to think about coming back if Greg was the one who was calling me,” said Arreola. He added that because of the relationship he’s built with the crew as a whole and the players over the years, “there’s been less hesitation, for sure.”

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Areola described the moment Berhalter told him he was not in the World Cup. Five days before the 26-man roster was announced, a local band had just completed their camp in Frisco, Texas, and it was Saturday. Areola said the players were told they would know the fate of their squad on Sunday.

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From the local camp, Areola was the only serious competitor left out – the rest were with European clubs – so Berhalter decided to tell Areola in person the day before.

Areola didn’t expect to be heard one way or the other. It burned. He said he told Berhalter, “I respect you as a coach. I respect you as a person and I respect your decision as well. I don’t agree with your decision. I think it’s wrong.”

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Areola appears to have lost out to Jordan Morris, the Seattle Sounders forward who appeared in two late World Cup matches.

Arreola watched the tournament with his family in California, and then began planning his wedding and the start of the MLS pre-season. He said that all the time he could not think about the future of his national team.

Areola said two things influenced his decision to continue. One was an article in The Athletic in which midfielder Sasha Kljestan called his career “10 times better” after missing out on the US squad for the 2014 World Cup. Kljestan returned to the team and scored twice in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and last fall capped a 17-year professional career. years.

The second influential element came from his mother-in-law’s doctor. During the appointment, the doctor asked if Areola would continue to play for the national team. She said she didn’t know.

She relayed the doctor’s message to her son-in-law: “He just has to keep going. He has to do it for you, for everyone who loves and supports him and who thinks he should have been in the World Cup. He can’t let this break him.”

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Arreola spoke regularly with one of his close friends, Russell Canuz of D.C. United.

“He was very sad and frustrated and he was having a hard time coping,” Canuz said. “The fact that he is in the camp now shows his character and character.”

The current squad has turned to Areola – and World Cup players Walker Zimmerman, Sean Johnson, Jesus Ferreira and Kylen Acosta – to provide guidance to a group of 12 players aged 23 and under. On this list, Areola’s 48 matches are second only to Acosta’s 55, his 10 goals being the most.

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Unlike the five World Cup players who are here, “It’s a difficult scenario [for Arriola] “Because I can’t imagine what he went through he didn’t go to the World Cup after he’s been with us for so long,” said Anthony Hudson, the World Cup assistant in charge of that camp. “We wondered if he wanted it or how he would feel, but his response was as you would expect from such a good person and character.”

Areola, who turns 28 on Feb. 5, admits he may not have a long-term future with the US team. The next World Cup is 3 and a half years away.

“I understand that this is a transitional period between two World Cups,” he said. “For me, it was more about living in the moment, being a statement to myself and the people around me and playing with them — just enjoying the experience now.”



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