- - Thursday, October 25, 2018

This has been a season of adjustments on and off the pitch for second-year D.C. United starting midfielder Paul Arriola.

Arriola, 23, has played several positions, welcomed international star Wayne Rooney to the starting lineup, and earlier this month, dealt with the death of his father.

The California native returned to the lineup Sunday after missing two matches due to his father’s passing, and helped D.C. United clinch a playoff spot with a win over New York City FC. He has seven goals and eight assists in 27 appearances this season after tallying just one goal and two assists in 11 matches last year with the club.

“I think obviously there is always room for improvement,” he said. “With the position change, I was able to find form and find confidence. My goal was 10 and 10 — 10 goals and 10 assists. I am close (but) I have never been a true natural goal scorer.”

Fifth-place D.C. United (14-11-8, 50 points) ends regular-season play Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the 10th place Chicago Fire (8-18-7). With a win, D.C. United would move into fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings.

That would mean at least one home match in the MLS playoffs — a stunning finish for a club that was last in the conference from May 12 to Aug. 12.

D.C. United is 13-2-2 at home this season, including 12-2-1 at Audi Field, while posting 1-9-6 road mark. The last win away from home came May 19 at San Jose.

“It is almost like a new season,” United goalie Bill Hamid said. “It took a lot of hard work, a lot of grit. That is kind of the talk of the locker room right now — how to go get home field.”

If D.C. United loses Sunday, they would play a road game in the playoffs next week at Philadelphia or New York City FC.

“Statistically, obviously, it is extremely important just going off the past (to play at home) and off of our form at home. I think is vital for us,” Arriola said. “The way that we are playing, we are very confident in what we are doing and our ability. If we win this weekend away we will be able to come home and play here. That is what we are hoping for right now.”

Chicago has little to play for with 31 points.

“We are not sure what to expect. We were in the same position last year,” Arriola said. “The thing we are concentrating on is ourselves. I don’t think our game plan will change a bit.”

In the previous meeting, the Fire led 1-0 at Audi Field on Oct. 7 before Rooney scored two goals in the second half for a 2-1 comeback victory.

Rooney has 12 goals and seven assists in 19 matches, including 17 starts, since he joined the team in July. That coincided with the opening of Audi Field.

The former Manchester United star, who turned 33 on Wednesday, declined a chance for his own hotel arrangements on road trips upon his arrival in the United States.

“That is 100 percent accurate,” Arriola said. “He wants to be part of the team. He doesn’t want to be on his own, on a pedestal in comparison to the rest of us.”


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