Cristian Roldan is the Sounders unassuming, unknown star
TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) - Most times when the topic of young midfielder Cristian Roldan is brought up, Seattle Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer can't stop raving.
From the time Roldan moved into the starting lineup for the Sounders, Schmetzer has seen the potential for Roldan to be an anchor in the middle of the field. And the U.S. national team is starting to take notice, too.
"He consistently puts in good performances," Schmetzer said. "Not just physically, but tactically and technically he puts in really solid performances."
Roldan will never have the big goal numbers like teammates Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris, but he's among the players who have the Sounders on the cusp of a return to the MLS Cup final. Seattle takes a 2-0 lead into the second-leg of the Western Conference final against Houston on Thursday night. The Sounders would advance with a win, draw or even a one-goal loss.
Roldan has been the anchor for most of this year, the best of his three MLS seasons. The midfielder is worthy of consideration for the MLS Best XI and is among the options for a national team not likely to play a match of importance until 2019.
"I think it's been positive. I still believe I have a ton to improve on and I never want to get settled on this season, on being decent," Roldan said. "I want to get better. I want to get in to the national team consistently and next year is another year and I want to keep improving. I've been very happy with this year but never content and I think that's a positive going forward."
Roldan started 33 of 34 regular season matches this season and finished with six goals. He played the second-most minutes of anyone on Seattle's roster.
Again, stats will never tell the full story with the Roldan. Not when his job is to be able to push forward to help the offensive attack, but sometimes race 70 or 80 yards back on defense to help shut down an offensive attack by the opposition.
It's that ability to play both ways that drew the attention of the national team. Roldan was called up for the first time during the summer when the U.S. was playing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and made his national team debut. But the more important call up came later in the summer when Roldan was part of the camp prior to World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras.
"To be in the second-to-last qualifiers where the U.S. is facing elimination for the World Cup, that's a huge deal," Roldan said. "Hopefully I can get to the point where I'm playing and starting every game, but to be in the running as my second call up that is big for my career going forward and I think it was big for this year as a confidence boost."
Dempsey recalled being in a similar situation as Roldan early in his career and getting that first national team call up was a huge influence on the development of his career.
"I would say confidence is a huge thing, being able to know he can play at that level. The more experience you get playing in games, playing in big games you get that confidence and also you improve," Dempsey said. "He keeps working on his skills, keeps working on his game, looking at tape, trying to figure out ways to better himself and when you're hungry and you work hard, you're only going to get better. He has to keep pushing and doing what he's doing and that's kind of what I had to do."