Matchday

Cristian Roldan brings "all the little things" to Seattle Sounders

23MLS_SEA_Cristian_Roldan

If any more evidence was required as to how instrumental Cristian Roldan is to Seattle Sounders FC's success, the 2023 season provided an apt illustration.

Let's break it down:

Seattle in 2023: Cristian Roldan on/off splits
With
Without
Games
16
18
Record
8W-1L-7D
6W-8L-4D
Avg. goals for
1.6
0.8
Avg. goals against
0.6
1.2
Points/game
1.9
1.2

It's no coincidence that Seattle's late-season uptick in form followed Roldan returning to the starting XI after concussion issues sidelined him for much of the season's middle portion. Roldan ended up playing 1,254 minutes, his fewest since his rookie season in 2015 – a turn of events he describes as challenging and illuminating at the same time.

“I'd say it was a frustrating year I think, for me individually,” Roldan told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview this week. “Injuries suck, and unfortunately it's part of the game.

“But what I would say is I saw a different side of life and the sport. I think it made me a stronger person and individual,” he continued. “It also, in a way, made me feel like such an important piece of the team. When my teammates are coming up to me and saying: 'We miss you and we need you.' Going through tough times, you never want to see your team struggle, but it gave me a sense of what you mean to the team in a way.”

Jack-of-all-trades

When healthy, the 28-year-old provides one of the most unique two-way skillsets in MLS.

His creativity and high-IQ approach fuel the right side of Seattle’s attack, where he frequently combines with his younger brother, right back Alex Roldan. When Seattle's offense is functioning at its best, the siblings generate high-quality chances with overlaps and interplay that leave opposing defenses scrambling.

But it's Cristian's defensive prowess and work-rate that often draw praise from teammates and head coach Brian Schmetzer, a do-everything nature honed during his early career as a defensive midfielder before finding a permanent home as a wide attacker.

“He provides leadership, maybe not as a vocal leader like Stef [Frei] or Nico [Lodeiro] or Roman [Torres] in his prime or Ozzie [Alonso] in his prime,” Schmetzer said. “But he provides the leadership on the field. He doesn’t take plays off.

“He goes every single play, different areas of the field, to cover for his brother. I don’t know if you notice that when Alex is 1-v-1 out there, Cristian always gets back to help. I mean, he does all the little things that make a team better. And I think that’s his leadership.”

Added center back Jackson Ragen: “It’s awesome to have him back. I think he’s very unique because he can run in behind and come in the pocket [of space], which not all players can do. I think he just brings a ton of energy and a dynamic play-style.”

Big-game experience

To make their trophy dreams a reality, Seattle must first beat FC Dallas in Friday’s Match 3 at Lumen Field (10 pm ET | MLS Season Pass), which decides the winner of the Round One Best-of-3 series after the Western Conference sides split the first two matches.

Even coming off a regular season that was more grind-it-out than glamorous, Seattle remain battle-tested. Key players remain from their squads that won MLS Cup in 2016 and '19, as well as a historic Concacaf Champions League title in 2022.

“The experience that we have on our team is unheard of, right?” Roldan said. “Going through Champions League, being in MLS Cup Finals, four of them – we are experienced. I think that's going to play a huge part, especially at home against a young Dallas team. It's not going to be easy.

“But falling back on the experience is certainly going to help us get through this game. And again, we talk about guys like Raúl [Ruidíaz] and Nico still having that impact and that X-factor that we need to get past these playoff-type teams.”

One last ride

Speaking to reporters late last month, Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin referred to his team’s upcoming Audi MLS Cup Playoffs run as something of a “Last Dance” scenario, given they're likely to experience roster turnover this offseason.

For Seattle, a similar theme applies. Longtime captain and club legend Lodeiro has already publicly announced he expects this season to be his last in Rave Green, which would mark the departure of the catalyst behind the most successful run in club history. Other high-profile veterans such as Ruidíaz, their prolific Peruvian striker, and stalwart goalkeeper Frei face similarly uncertain futures as the offseason looms.

While the club might look quite different come 2024, Roldan believes there’s still plenty in the tank for one more run. And if Seattle indeed beat Dallas, they'll host a Western Conference Semifinal against LAFC after the November international break. 

“That plays a huge part because [Lodeiro] has gone through it all with us and he's helped us win many trophies and in a way, this is his last playoff run,” Roldan said. “We know that he can still contribute at such a high level for us. So absolutely, we have Raúl coming off the bench at this point in his career. And we have young guys coming up the ranks.

“So it's an interesting time, I think, for us,” he continued. “A transition period, going from this year to next year, but I still think we have the quality to compete for a trophy and with guys like Nico and Raúl coming off the bench. There's not a lot of clubs that can say that or have that quality coming from the bench. So we're excited for the opportunity, and from here on out, it's one game, and one game will basically determine your future.”