Not looking past an opponent is a common mantra in sports.
However, once he was ejected because of a red card 18 minutes into this past Sunday’s match against Los Angeles FC, Cristian Roldan’s immediate thought was about the next match vs. Minnesota United.
The defensive midfielder had been looking forward to the road game against Minnesota since January, when former Sounders teammate Osvaldo Alonso signed a free-agent deal there. But an MLS red card comes with a one-game suspension, meaning Roldan would miss the trip. The disappointment of missing the game lasted until Wednesday, when the Sounders (5-1-3, 18 points) won an appeal of the red card, reinstating Roldan for the game at Minnesota’s new Allianz Field.
“There’s been just a bunch of different emotions the last couple of days,” Roldan said after practice Wednesday. Cleared to play, Roldan will have his first faceoff with Alonso, a player Roldan regards as a mentor and friend. Roldan and a few teammates had dinner with Alonso in downtown Minneapolis on Thursday, and Roldan finally sat comfortably as the successor to the player who defined the right midfield position to Sounders fans.
Alonso, who used a shopping trip with his Cuban national team in Houston to defect from his country in 2007, was part of the Sounders inaugural roster in 2009. When he left Seattle last winter, he was a U.S. citizen, father of three and one of the most decorated players in franchise history — still holding the club’s record for most MLS games and minutes played.
“I’m very happy to see everybody because 10 years in Seattle was a lot,” Alonso said via phone after training Friday. “I left a lot of good friends there, so I wanted to see them and shake hands with everybody. It was a fun night.”
Roldan, 23, has been compared to Alonso since the former was drafted by Seattle in 2015. Roldan said University of Washington men’s soccer coach Jamie Clark initially spotted the similarities despite Roldan being an attacking player for the Huskies in his two seasons at UW.
The midfielders hover around the same height and weight and share a tenacious competitive drive with skills to match. Roldan studied the four-time All-Star’s game and credits that as well as help from former Sounders teammate turned coach, Gonzalo Pineda, for his success.
The most notable differences between Roldan and Alonso are their hairstyles and age — Alonso being a 33-year-old baldheaded veteran.
Roldan briefly competed with Alonso for a starting spot, but when then-assistant coach Brian Schmetzer took over as head coach in 2016, Schmetzer changed formations, playing Alonso and Roldan together.
They played 102 games in the midfield together and helped lead the Sounders to two MLS Cup finals, winning the championship in 2016. But Roldan’s development is partly why Alonso is in Minnesota, helping the Loons (4-3-2, 14 points) tighten a defense that allowed 141 goals since joining MLS in 2017.
“I tried to brush it off. You don’t want to be compared to a Sounders legend like that coming out of college,” Roldan said. “It wasn’t until I really started playing with him, that’s when I started embracing (the comparison).”
The players will be a focal point Saturday, and Seattle will have the benefit of knowing how Alonso is likely to guide his team defensively. They also will have a healthier lineup.
Sounders striker Raul Ruidiaz (heel), who’s missed the past five games, made the trip along with backup Will Bruin (hamstring) and Chad Marshall (knee). The only players unavailable are left defensive midfielder Gustav Svensson (hamstring) and right back Kelvin Leerdam (suspension).
Seattle is undefeated in four matches against Minnesota. But the Loons’ past two games at Allianz Field produced clean sheets, including the first win in the new stadium on Sunday.
“(Roldan) is going to be against me and that’s going to be different,” Alonso said. “He’s got talent. I got a chance to play with him for a lot of years and he’s improved a lot. I was very happy to have him next to me.
“It’s going to be emotional. But I have to think it’s not Seattle playing me, it’s another team and try to win the game. That’s the most important thing for us.”
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