The popular sports concept of a “winning mentality” has a sort of greed at its core, a voraciousness to keep accumulating honors even after great achievements have already been attained.
Seattle Sounders FC – and their fans – have it, as they reminded the rest of MLS with a 3-1 comeback win over Minnesota United FC at Lumen Field on Sunday to end a three-match losing skid in league play that had dropped them, however briefly, into the Western Conference basement.
And Cristian Roldan has it in abundance, as he proved yet again with another man-of-the-match display, earning a penalty kick for the equalizer, scoring a banger of a game-winner and assisting on Nico Lodeiro’s clincher to spearhead the Rave Green’s first win since their historic Concacaf Champions League final triumph over Pumas UNAM.
“I want the team to be proud of that accomplishment because we were the first MLS team to win CCL, the current version of CCL, and that's something that we're very proud of,” said Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer postgame. “Now, the other side of that is just making sure that the players understand – which they do, I don't have to say it too much, had to do a little bit of messaging this week, but they understand that we're not just going to rest on our laurels. That's not what the Seattle Sounders do.
“Just because we won Champions League does not mean that that's a successful season. We want to make sure we get more.”
Most MLSers would happily accept a few league Ls in the service of iconic CCL glory, and Wednesday’s US Open Cup loss to San Jose was about as narrow as can be, a 2-2 deadlock that took 11 rounds of penalty kicks to break. The league’s structure and rhythms are such that May is rarely a time for panic or consternation over results.
That makes the urgency Seattle displayed on this national-TV occasion all the more noteworthy.
Minnesota provided much more resistance than the final scoreline might indicate, probing their hosts on the counterattack and carving out some big chances via set pieces – most glaringly when Stefan Frei produced a sterling reaction save to deny Robin Lod’s flicked corner-kick header in the first half – and Schmetzer rued his side’s defensive errors in both categories.
When Lod finally punished a Nouhou Tolo gaffe deep inside Seattle’s penalty box to give the Loons the lead, it was no great surprise. But that signature Rave Green relentlessness reared its head again down the stretch.
“Good teams find ways to come back, fix things on the fly and I thought that’s what we did coming out of [halftime],” said the elder Roldan brother. “The defensive aspect of our team, it has to get better. It’s a reality. We were so good in Champions League not conceding goals and that’s something we need to correct in MLS play.
“I felt we had all the confidence we’d get back into the game if we could score one goal," he later added. "Once we get that one goal, we feel good about our chances in the game and we kept going forward with confidence.’
That was powered chiefly by Roldan himself, whose industry and ferocity have lately been accompanied by a cold-blooded capture of end product in front of goal.
“Cristian has been doing that for a long, long time, and we are grateful,” said Schmetzer. “We as coaches never overlook all the small details that he brings to the team and the game. He causes penalties because his movement is aggressive inside the penalty box. He attacks the prime assist zone well, he just puts himself in harm's way at times. So that's just part of who he is. And today was another good performance that I hope other people – not just the fans and us – I hope people are paying attention.”
When later given a chance to expand on that last part, Schmetzer made it clear that he was talking to US men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter – who has called up Roldan regularly, though given him extended minutes only rarely – as the clock ticks down towards the World Cup in Qatar.
“My earlier comment about making sure that people were watching was specific to a group of people, in case you guys didn't catch that,” said the Sounders boss. “I think Cristian is very valuable in his tactical acumen, his physical contributions and you know, the guy's a winner. The guy wants to win, hates to lose. I think sometimes he borders on that. He doesn’t like losing. And that is something that I think is a good quality to have. So the competitiveness is there, his determination.
“We might play a little different than Gregg, we try and attack the prime assist zone maybe a little bit more often. And then look, the goal he scored, he's done that in years past, he's had a couple of goals from outside of the box as well. So again, he's been a great player for us. And wherever his final outcome is with the national team, I keep my fingers crossed.”
Roldan, naturally, is focused on producing for the club to earn more international consideration.
"Obviously I want to be in Qatar and if I contribute with Seattle, if I continue to get assists [and] goals, that’s only going to help my case," the 26-year-old said. "So I need to stay in form, stay healthy, compete in every game, show that I can play multiple positions to have a chance. But certainly scoring, contributing on that stat sheet is always helpful to get back into the national team."
Roldan’s international prospects will likely be influenced by the rest of Seattle’s season. With CCL won and Open Cup lost, they now focus on the league, and with their substantial Audi MLS Cup Playoffs pedigree, they certainly know the way.
“We talked about it when we came back from the Open Cup game. I put up on the board where we stood in the standings, up there for them to see,” said Schmetzer.
“We’ve jumped a couple places, we've got three wins, the sixth-place team that we're chasing is our next opponent. They've got four wins. So again, the West is going to be a dogfight. We're not going to focus on anything but the next game and then the next game, and then the next game and wherever we end up at the end of the year, I hope it's in the playoffs, I hope it it’s as high a seed as we can.”