As a fifth-round Major League Soccer draft pick in 2002 out of West Texas A&M, Davy Arnaud didn’t take much for granted. During that rookie season with Kansas City, his goal was a simple one: Make it to Year 2, then take matters from there.
Although he played just three games that season, he showed enough to come back for a second campaign. Then a third. And a fourth and a fifth.
“It’s turned into going on 13 years now,” Arnaud said. “I feel very fortunate. I love it — I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
The 33-year-old midfielder is set to play his 299th MLS match Saturday when D.C. United (0-1-0) travels to face Toronto FC (1-0-0) on Saturday.
A former MLS All-Star who compiled seven U.S. national team caps from 2007 to 2009, Arnaud is a player whose most productive days are likely behind him. While he has 48 MLS goals to his name, just five have come over the past three seasons.
But United coach Ben Olsen had more in mind when the club acquired Arnaud in a December trade with the Montreal Impact. Having served as captain with Kansas City and Montreal, Arnaud adds valuable leadership to what had largely been a young, unproven United squad.
“He understands what it takes to be a good professional in this league,” Olsen said. “He understands what it takes to win from a team chemistry standpoint. So he adds the on-field stuff that’s evident, but the off-field stuff is also a big reason why we wanted to get him.”
Added third-year midfielder Nick DeLeon: “The impact right off the bat — I don’t know what it is about him. I want to say it’s just his workrate. The guy is putting it all on the line for us, and he just [got] here.”
Following 10 years with Kansas City, Arnaud voyaged into the unknown by signing a two-year contract with the Impact ahead of their expansion 2012 campaign. After Arnaud started 31 of Montreal’s 34 league matches that season, injuries and a new coaching staff contributed to his minutes being cut back in 2013.
When it came time for Arnaud to sit down with the Impact at season’s end, an amicable split was in the cards. Keeping in mind their 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, Arnaud and his wife decided their time in Montreal had run its course.
“Toward the end of it, my family and I both were ready to get back to the U.S. for different reasons,” Arnaud said. “My kids are starting school now, so there are other things that play into it that you have to think about when you have a family. It was a good time for us to come back.”
After United’s season opener March 8, Arnaud and his family used the bye week to settle into their Ashburn, Va., home. Having some relatives and a college teammate of Arnaud’s nearby has eased the transition. And Arnaud makes the trek to RFK Stadium in his SUV with teammates Lewis Neal and Conor Shanosky.
“It’s a little bit of a drive,” Arnaud said, “but it’s more my speed.”
While he is making himself at home off the field, he’s still finding his place on it. Typically a central midfielder, Arnaud started on the right flank in United’s opener, with Olsen saying he’s still trying to get a feel for the player’s best position.
No matter where he’s deployed, Arnaud figures he’ll do what he’s done from Day 1: put in the work and lead by example. That approach, after all, has already gotten him 12 years in MLS he wasn’t counting on.
“You try to be a good influence every day at training,” Arnaud said. “For me, that’s one of the most important things on a daily basis — that you approach things the right way, that the effort is there and you don’t take any days off. I try and do that to the best of my ability.”