Football Americana

Paul Arriola highlights the moment US soccer 'changed for the better'

Chris Smith
Arriola has 44 USMNT caps to his name so far.
Arriola has 44 USMNT caps to his name so far. / John Dorton/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Exclusive - Paul Arriola has highlighted the United States' failure to reach the 2018 World Cup as a watershed moment for soccer in the country.

The USMNT had appeared in seven consecutive World Cups prior to Russia 2018, regularly cruising near the top of the qualifying table alongside Mexico.

But the Stars and Stripes suffered a disastrous qualification campaign for the last tournament, culminating in a 2-1 defeat to already-eliminated Trinidad and Tobago in the last match of the final round of qualifying. That result meant the USMNT finished fifth in the group, outside the automatic qualification and inter-confederation playoff spots.

Bruce Arena left his position as head coach shortly after and following a short interim spell under Dave Sarachan, Gregg Berhalter was placed in charge of the USMNT. From Berhalter's belief in playing a particular style of soccer to trying to build a club atmosphere with the national team, Arriola Arriola told 90min's Football Americana Podcast of his belief that this has been a transitional appointment.

"That's when all of the United States and soccer in the United States changed, and obviously changed for the better, because we brought in a coach in Gregg who was completely different than the past," Arriola said. "Someone who believes in a system. Someone who believes in a real culture. Someone that's trying to build the national team like a club environment.

"And they've been able to do that, to be honest, and [you have] to give them a bunch of credit, because you ask anyone if they're excited to go with a national team, and those are like your brothers. Whether you've seen them in the past month or you've seen them six months ago, you're excited to be a part of the group."

Perhaps most impressive has been Berhalter's fearlessness when it comes to using young players. Of the nations that have already qualified for Qatar 2022, none have an average age lower than the United States during qualifying (23.7) with the likes of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, and Christian Pulisic leading an exciting new generation of talent.

"He's helped all these young guys get so much experience on the international level that I think he's put us in a great position to be able to be dangerous and to perform at the highest level," Arriola - a 44-time US international - continued. "Gregg has done a great job for us. And he's provided clarity for us.

"[It] hasn't been easy, obviously, taking over a team after they haven't qualified for the World Cup. There's been a lot of pressure on us. I feel like there's more eyes now than ever on what we do, how we perform, where we're playing and all these different things. Not just from fans, but also different teams around the world that are consistently looking for the next Pulisic, the next Weston McKennie, people like that."