Paul Arriola, D.C. United agree to contact extension through 2023

Terms were not disclosed, but Arriola received a raise after earning about $700,000 last year. He was already one of United’s two designated players, an elite classification that also includes Peruvian midfielder Edison Flores.

His previous pact was set to expire after the 2021 season.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to get a deal done while everything is going on,” Arriola said in a teleconference with reporters. “There is a lot of uncertainty about where we go and obviously [the state of] different clubs’ and leagues’ revenues. But for me, I feel like I have a job in this club that’s still not finished.”

The extension does not prevent him from moving overseas in the coming years; United could entertain offers at any time. By keeping him under contract, United ensures itself a transfer fee. Had he not re-signed, Arriola could have agreed to a 2021 precontract as early as July 1, 2021, with a team outside MLS. In that case, D.C. would not have been compensated.

“Paul has been an immense attacking player and fan favorite since he arrived at our club and we are thrilled to secure his long-term future,” Dave Kasper, United’s general manager, said in a written statement. “We know Paul will be back stronger than ever and we look forward to his return.”

Entering his third full MLS season, Arriola, 25, figured prominently in United’s plans before injuring his right knee in training camp. Five months removed from surgery, he has graduated from indoor workouts to individual sessions on the Audi Field grass.

“I get to lace up the boots every once in a while and do some passing and just start to get integrated on the field,” he said. “There is no team activity for me right now, but I hope eventually in the next couple of months, I should be able to get back into the groove of things.”

Although MLS might extend the season into early winter, Arriola is reluctant to raise hopes of returning this year.

“I have not put a timeline on when I want to be back,” he said. “Obviously I want to be back as soon as possible and as safe as possible. The most important thing is coming back when it’s the right time and when everyone agrees I am cleared to go. I am definitely excited where I am right now.”

For most of his rehabilitation, Arriola has been apart from his teammates. First, the pandemic forced the suspension of the season and prevented the players from gathering. Then, he remained in the area while the team toiled at the MLS is Back Tournament in greater Orlando.

“I don’t think there was a better time to have a serious injury than this time right now,” he said. “It has helped me focus. First three months, I was expecting those to be the hardest of the recovery process. I was able to focus on therapy and didn’t have to see anybody. I was able to zoom in and just focus on myself, focus on rehab.”

Contract negotiations claimed some of his time. Negotiations began early in the year, and as the sides exchanged proposals, Arriola said his bond with the organization played a significant role in re-signing.

“The club has been there for me through the hardest times of my life,” he said, a reference to not only the injury but the death of his father in fall 2018. “They have really been that family away from my family. Loyalty goes a long way.”

A native of suburban San Diego, Arriola has settled into the D.C. area since arriving in late-summer 2017 from the Mexican club Tijuana. Last year he bought a house in Ashburn, not far from United’s future training center in Leesburg.

Greater Washington, he said, “really is my second home.”

United notes: After returning from Florida and taking a four-day break, the players regrouped Monday at Audi Field for coronavirus testing and a training session. The organization is waiting on the league to finalize plans to resume the regular season in home markets as early as late August.