Paul Arriola // Photo: courtesy of D.C. United

D.C. United Has Playoffs On Their Mind

As the calendar turned to August, D.C. United sat in third place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference but were right in the thick of the race – sitting only a few points out of the top spot. A lock to make the playoffs, the team has been coming on strong this summer, going 3-2-5 (adding 14 points) in its last 10 contests and making a run for first.

Midfielder Paul Arriola, whose name is consistently brought up in transfer talk, is in his third year with the team and has proven a vital squad player under head coach Ben Olsen’s scheme.

“It’s been a better first half of the season than it was last year, which was my first full year, and we had this great second-half run at Audi Field,” Arriola says. “Having had so many home games this year, we’ve gotten a taste of what a real MLS season is like. There’s times the ball is going your way and the refs are calling it your way, but then there are times we can’t buy a goal or other teams are playing better than us.”

That rollercoaster ride is something all soccer players experience, and he knows the team is capable of being on the fun, upswing side of that journey as the year goes on. Arriola will be counted on to help D.C. United in its championship run after coming off a strong showing for the U.S. National Team in the Gold Cup.

“We’ve put ourselves in a great spot to be in the playoffs,” he says. “We’re not in the do-or-die situation we were in last year in the second half, but we feel we will get those big results. Last year, it took me about three months to feel like myself as a player because of the long off-season. But this year, with hard training, I came out of the blocks really hot – first with the National Team and now with United. I’ve played a very versatile role so far and [am] happy with what I’ve done, but not content.”

The team’s offense is led by former Manchester United star Wayne Rooney, sporting a brilliant season with a team high of 11 goals and seven assists in league play this year. He also recorded two goals and an assist in two Open Cup games and is proving why he’s an international sensation.

Luciano Acosta has chipped in five goals, midfielder Lucas Rodriguez has four and Arriola has scored four himself. On defense, the team is counting on Leonardo Jara, Steven Birnbaum and Frederic Brilliant to keep the opposition in check as the offense does what it’s capable of doing. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid is having a fine season, with 88 saves and eight shutouts in 115 shots faced, accounting for an 8-6-8 record through the team’s first 22 games.

Midfielder Russell Canouse has been with D.C. United since 2017 and racked up a career high 1,634 minutes already for the team. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native is known for his passing accuracy and considered one of the top passers in the league.

“The past month, we left some points on the table that we should have gotten, but we have 11 games left,” Canouse says. “I expect us to pick up some points, and our goal is to have home-field advantage for the playoffs. Our recent win against Cincinnati was an important one for us because that gave us a lot of confidence. Another big result was the Orlando game where Wayne hit the 65-yard goal.”

As the new home for D.C. United, Audi Field has been everything the players had hoped for and more – and Arriola is loving the Audi Field vibe.

“The fans push us – not just myself, but as a team,” he says. “When I look around the stadium and see the amount of people wearing an Arriola jersey, [it’s] amazing. The way [our fans] support the team and never give up on us, that’s something a lot of teams don’t get. They are definitely special to us.”

To bolster the roster in the second half, the team recently added former University of Maryland standout attacker Gordon Wild, and he’s expected to provide some strong firepower in the final two months. The team also brought in former USMNT midfielder Jose Torres on a trial basis, in case an injury or transfer occurs in the next couple of weeks.

“Our team chemistry is only getting stronger,” Canouse says. “Guys are starting to understand how much quality we have on the team and what we can achieve. We find ourselves in a good spot. Ben has done a great job keeping us levelheaded.”

Arriola is optimistic but sees room for improvement in the coming months.

“There’s work to be done and we’re tying a lot of games, but we almost hit a wall where we weren’t able to win games,” he says. “The key for the rest of the season is to find our identity and collectively understand who we are and the type of team we are. In the end, it’s going to take a player to make a big play every single game. But if we stay true to ourselves, we can do what we need to do.”

For more information on the remainder of D.C. United’s 2019 season, which runs through October 6, visit www.dcunited.com.

Audi Field: 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC; 202-587-5000; www.dcunited.com