After scoring the winning goal that virtually assured the USMNT’s spot in the World Cup, Paul Arriola is happy to have silenced the doubters, but moreso to have brought his team to the cusp of a trip to Qatar.

It was a very good night for the US Men’s National Team in Orlando on Sunday night as they moved one giant step closer to qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2022. The Americans were too hot to handle for the Panamanians, putting five past their keeper for an emphatic 5-1 victory.

Christian Pulisic was the man of the night with his first ever USA hat trick, but it was also a big night for FC Dallas forward Paul Arriola, who despite a lot of fans not happy with him being a fixture in the American set-up, was called back into the national team and made the most of his opportunity by scoring his first competitive goal since the Gold Cup in 2019. 

“First of all, I was super happy with the goal,” said the winger who recently moved to FC Dallas after spending the previous five seasons at DC United. “Obviously to help the team as an attacking player, it was important to make your mark and be productive in the final third.”

“And secondly, there are always going to be people that hate and have their own opinions,” he said, as an ode to those who question his involvement in the USMNT setup. “I just try to stay focused on myself. I know how valuable I am and how valuable I can be to this team.”

He also stated that the group of players around him are a big inspiration in his success.

“These guys that I play with, they motivate me to the max .The guys in my position push me to the limits and I appreciate that, but overall I’m super happy in the moment to be able to score and help the team win.”

Image: US Soccer

The California native continued, elaborating about how the team approached the game.

“The important thing before the game was talking about what we needed to do to be successful [and] we all mentioned pretty similar things: intensity, mentality, getting off on the right foot, using the energy of the fans.”

“And all those things I think we were able to do,” he beamed.

“I think in the beginning of the game we were matched with Panama’s energy but I think at the end of the day the execution was there for us on our chances and obviously getting penalty kicks. But we knew once the first goal went in that there would be a ton of space and a ton of chances to be able to take the game to the next level, which we did and we’re very happy about that.”

When the USA went up against Panama earlier in this set of qualifiers, things didn’t go very well for the Americans. They ended up coming back home with no points after a 1-0 loss in Panama City. 

Arriola didn’t see this earlier failure of the team as any factor that impacted their approach on Sunday evening.

“To be honest with you,” he said, “we put the last game against them past us. We didn’t think about that. We knew it was going to be a completely different game. We really just tried to focus on ourselves.”

“That’s number one that we always try and do; we play a certain way. We have the next man up mentality.”

“It was great,” he commented, returning to the moment of being on the field with his teammates. “We used the energy of the fans, playing at home, enjoying ourselves, a lot of intensity, being on the same page with one another; all those things were key to our success today. 

“I said it before we went to Mexico, the mentality of this group is unbelievable [because of] the way that we think and the way that we believe that we can go anywhere and beat anyone.  We’re gonna continue that.”

But the 27 year old knows that the job isn’t done yet.

“I have full confidence in this team to go down there [to Costa Rica] and be able to get a result. To an extent there is a personal mission but the jobs not done yet and when it is we’ll celebrate.”

The USMNT will almost certainly play their final qualifier of this cycle on Wednesday evening in the Estadio Nacional, in San José, Costa Rica, where they have never won.

By Michael Adubato

The old man of Yanks-Abroad, having been around since the very beginning in 2004, Known as the resident Belgian expert since that’s where he has lived for a couple of decades. Over the years he has interviewed Nats such as Kasey Keller, Brian McBride, Oguchi Onyewu, Jozy Altidore and Tim Weah, to name a few. When not working the day job, he can often be found in stadiums around Europe, watching games from the top flight to the lower leagues. To prove that he is not just a pretty face, Mike received a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Maryland and a Masters from the University of Oklahoma. Boomer Sooner! On a non-soccer note, Adubato has just released a book of poetry from his travels, Missing the Exit, published by Broken Keys Publishing in Ottawa, Canada. So that must make him the YA poet laureate! You can grab your copy on Amazon.com, order online and pick it up and Barnes & Noble or get an e-copy at various outlets.

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