Featured / Season Reviews / Union

Season review: Cristian Arrieta

Editor’s note: PSP is running season reviews for each Philadelphia Union player — one per weekday for the next few weeks. You can read all the reviews here.

Rumor has it that Cristian Arrieta won’t be back with Philadelphia Union next year, and that makes sense, because he has about zero chance of starting for the Union despite having the technical ability to play at a high level.

Arrieta signed with the Union in April after a successful stint with the Puerto Rico Islanders in the USL, and the former USL defender of the year promptly stepped into the starting lineup. Right away, he showed great touch on the ball, excellent passing vision and some terrific crosses. After the Dave Myrie misadventure, this seemed to be exactly what the Union needed. He had (and still has) the best technical ability of the Union’s defenders, with good touch and a steadiness on the ball. He had an excellent first game against D.C. United and showed signs he could be the permanent starting right back.

His defensive deficiencies gradually emerged, however, as he got burned by fast wingers and showed an apparent lack of hustle at the most inopportune times. He was benched at halftime during the first Chicago Fire game after winger Patrick Nyarko smoked him twice, and he may not have ever made it back on the field had not Michael Orozco Fiscal gotten suspended for the PPL Park opener. Arrieta played very well in that game as an emergency center back, and it prompted Nowak to experiment for several games with Arrieta at center back and Orozco at right back. Over the next several games, Arrieta started at center back and played fairly well, but he and Orozco both seemed like fish out of water playing positions that clearly didn’t fit their abilities best. Nowak apparently gave up on both as center backs, with the signing of Juan Diego Gonzalez, but Gonzalez’s injury gave Orozco a chance to return and flourish at center back.

Arrieta, however, didn’t get another chance at right back. The signing and emergence of Sheanon Williams at right back made him surplus, and he spent the rest of the season as a bench warmer.

2010 statistics

16 games (15 starts), 1,343 minutes played, 8 shots (3 on goal), 16 fouls caused, 10 fouls suffered, 5 yellow cards.

High point

His first game. He looked so good in that game that I dubbed him the Union’s “missing link.” (Oops.)

Low point

The first Chicago game. Arrieta got smoked twice by Patrick Nyarko, and it cost the Union the game and Arrieta his starting job at right back. Nowak is particularly unforgiving with defenders who get repeatedly burned. (See Myrie, Dave; Thomas, Shavar; and Stahl, Toni.) If Arrieta leaves, it’s clear the Chicago game was the beginning of the end.


Arrieta is an excellent technical player. He has good poise on the ball, pushes up well in attack, and sends in excellent crosses. He has the technical ability to play in a first division league in Latin America. When he hustles, he’s adequate in defense, and he’s versatile enough to play center back or even midfield.


Arrieta is either too slow, or he doesn’t hustle enough. We saw too many times where he was jogging back on defense on opposing goals. He has trouble with fast wingers. Some players simply have laconic demeanors, and Arrieta may be one of them. Or he may just not care.


Major League Soccer is not known as a technically superior league, but rather one that is fast and physical with referees who require the sight of blood to call fouls. Put simply, this may not be the place for Arrieta, but somewhere else may be. He could be good enough to start for a team in the slower but technically superior Mexican league or other Latin American leagues. At age 31, he still has good years ahead of him.

The Shavar Thomas experience could be illustrative here. The center back washed out after one miserable game with the Union, despite having been a regular starter for years in MLS. Kansas City promptly signed him and plugged him in as a starter, and by most accounts, he played very well. Why? Did he suddenly become a bad player in Philadelphia and then recover his form in Kansas City? It’s possible. More likely, it’s that the Union’s attacking style of play exposes and punishes slow defenders. Like Thomas, Arrieta could probably start tomorrow for some MLS teams and play very well.

If Arrieta remains with the Union, he slots in as a backup defender who has the ability to play at least three positions on the back line. He’s the sixth defender, however, behind the four starters and Juan Diego Gonzalez, and Orozco’s ability to slide out to either fullback position means Gonzalez is the first man called. The fact that Shea Salinas can play right back as well means Arrieta may find playing time hard to come by. With Nowak’s preference for developing young players, spending a deep bench spot on a 31-year-old defender may not be his preference when he could give the spot to a young player with more time and a higher upside.

Look for Arrieta to go unprotected in the expansion draft and possibly get a look from Portland or Vancouver. If not picked, Arrieta may choose to move on, and the Union may grant him that wish. Arrieta has the talent to start for other teams, but with Sheanon Williams’s emergence at right back, it won’t be in Philadelphia.

(Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz)

One Comment

  1. The guy came in with a lot of hooplah … DotY, league MVP, etc … but he really failed to make an impression and live up to the supposed hype, not to mention rumors of a rift between him and Nowak. I’ll be shocked to see him in a Union kit come next season.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *