Considering he had played all but seven minutes of the 2018 regular season, the ending did not go the way Cristian Roldan would have liked. But since then, a lot of things have gone the Seattle Sounders’ midfielder’s way.
Roldan received a contract extension in December, a month after he suffered a hip flexor injury and was unable to play in what turned out to be the Sounders’ last game of the season – a loss to rival Portland in the Western Conference semifinals.
Healthy again and armed with a five-year, $4 million deal, the 23-year-old midfielder has helped the Sounders out to a good start after two years of slow starts. Seattle, sitting in third place, carries a 7-2-5 record into Saturday’s game at FC Dallas.
And Roldan is poised to be a part of the U.S. men’s national team for this year’s Gold Cup. He’s on the 40-man provisional roster and has a good chance to land on the final 23-man roster when it’s announced on June 6.
Roldan’s already scored three goals for the Sounders, well ahead of the pace to eclipse the six he scored in 2017. Add it all up — his start, his team’s start, a chance to play for the USMNT and the security of his new contract — and things are going well.
“I felt valued,” Roldan said. “I felt like (the Sounders) wanted to me to be a franchise player. It meant a lot to me because I had worked hard and put in a lot of effort to get where I’m at. … Knowing they wanted me to be a part of the team for the next five years was extremely emotional for me.”
Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey had been working on contract extensions for both Roldan and Jordan Morris (who also signed a five-year contract in December) as a way to secure the Sounders future in the post-Ozzie Alonso, post-Chad Marshall world.
Lagerwey notes that as the two get more exposure, they could draw the attention of foreign teams on the transfer market. At this time, he said he’s had no formal offers for Roldan by an international team.
“Of course there’s chatter and there’s background,” Lagerwey said. “But what drives that marketplace, especially in terms of where we’re at as a league, is national team play and playing in international competitions.
“As far as Cristian goes, he’s still breaking into the national team and I think he’s going to be a fixture there.”
He’s already become a fixture with the Sounders, a role that has only grown as the team has moved on from Alonso (free agency) and the retirement of Marshall earlier this month.
Roldan said he takes his new responsibility seriously.
“As a leader, you want to be dependable,” Roldan said. “You want to be reliable in the locker room as well as being on the field and those are big things I learned.”
“Cristian brings it every day,” Sounders forward Will Bruin said. “Every day at training, every game. You never question his work ethic. He’s a very good player and a leader by example on this team, and I think when you look at somebody you want to play with, Cristian checks off all the boxes and characteristics.
“I’ve seen him mature tremendously in the three years that I’ve been here. He still has a long way to go in terms of his career, which I think he can make the most out of it.”
Roldan’s beginnings with the Sounders continue to fuel him in the present. Being drafted with the 16th selection in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft was not something he expected. Instead, he thought he would be taken higher.
And while he was happy to go to the Sounders after a stellar career at the University of Washington, he felt he needed to prove his worth.
“I’ve always had this chip on my shoulder and I wanted to prove that I was better than a 16th overall pick,” Roldan said. “I was better than a lot of teams thought I was and Seattle really gave me that chance. I was able to prove it, and hopefully (I’ll) continue to prove them right.”
This season, Roldan’s adding more offense to his already steady play in the midfield. Two of his three goals were so impressive that both were nominated for MLS Goal of the Week honors.
On May 11, he netted the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Houston with a 25-yard strike following a Seattle corner kick. The previous week against Minnesota United, he scored on another long-range shot outside of the box.
“Every center midfielder dreams of getting a chance to strike the ball at the top of the box,” Roldan said. “The only bad thing for me is that I was doing it (vs. Minnesota) on a bum ankle, so I knew it was going to hurt and it did but it was really worth it.”
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer talks about players being what he calls “goal dangerous.” He’s made that reference in regards to many players, including Roldan.
“Your forwards score X amount of goals,” Schmetzer said. “If you get a midfielder to get three or four or five timely goals, that’s a bonus for us as coaches. Eventually, teams are going to key in on your forwards. They’re already marking Raul (Ruidiaz) and they’re already double-teaming Jordan, so who frees up?
“It’s someone like Cristian who goes free and he’s got the quality to make teams pay.”