Cristian Roldan is aware that his primary employers, the Seattle Sounders, would probably prefer that he takes it easy this month.

He and his Sounders teammates dropped the curtain on a long, draining 2021 campaign with last month’s upset loss to Real Salt Lake in Round One of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. And with the freshly-released 2022 schedule kicking off earlier than ever before, preseason will be here in just a few weeks.

But thanks to multiple pandemic-imposed delays, the Concacaf World Cup qualifying schedule must keep cranking this winter, with another key three-match international window of Octagonal play set for late January and early February – the US men’s national team’s first competitive action at this time of year in nearly two decades.

So Roldan and a roster full of his USMNT colleagues are still hard at work in a rare December camp at the LA Galaxy’s Dignity Healthy Sports Park in Carson, California. Their labor will be capped by Saturday’s friendly vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina, who have gathered an entirely domestic-based group for this intercontinental trip outside of FIFA windows (8 pm ET | FS1, UniMas, TUDN).

“I think it's tough for club teams, first and foremost, to allow us to be here. Obviously, they want us relaxing and getting ready for the MLS season,” Roldan, who made 10 appearances for his country this year, told reporters on Tuesday.

“But as international players, it's our duty to stay fit and be ready when called upon. And this was another example of us having another opportunity to show that you belong in the qualifier group. So for us, it's a no-brainer when getting called upon and trying to showcase what you got … every opportunity I have here in camp is an opportunity to show that I still belong, that I can compete at this level.”

The race for places in the USMNT setup is as keen as ever, and matches against El Salvador (in Columbus on Jan. 27), Canada (in Hamilton on Jan. 30) and Honduras (in St. Paul, Minnesota on Feb. 2) in the dead of winter are expected to test the physical and mental capacity of all involved.

So while many of their club mates are jetting off on vacation or gathering with family for the holidays, Roldan and the rest are grinding to earn – or maintain – a good spot on Gregg Berhalter’s depth chart, including a bevy of talented young newcomers hailing from both domestic and overseas clubs.

“Gregg is very analytical, he looks at every training session and every play, so being sharp mentally and physically is going to be really important in this camp and in January,” said Roldan. “But staying fit is going to be really important to have a chance of making the qualifier group … it's about expanding the player pool and getting these young guys into the [Berhalter] system that is so complicated and nerve-wracking at times.

“Our system is very difficult to learn and this camp is an opportunity to have these young guys ready when it's their time,” he noted in Spanish. “And for us veterans that are here, it's very nice to help them learn this system faster. And we are also here to stay in good shape physically for the qualifiers to come.”

Fielding questions in both languages, the Pico Rivera, California native confessed to having carried some unease about his place in the national team hierarchy into this camp. Roldan has been something of a utility man for the Yanks, often used as a substitute and in both wide and central roles. And recent conversations with Berhalter have helped him come to terms with the pros and cons of that perceived versatility.

“I spoke with Gregg about this topic, because the truth is I’ve been a bit frustrated because I don’t know what position I am when I’m with this team,” said Roldan in Spanish. “He told me, ‘hey, you can play in two positions.’ I’ve been in central midfield a bit, at times more back, supporting the attack, but in other games, if we’re playing against other teams with different systems, styles, at times he’ll play me as a winger.

“At the moment I need to learn to play both positions very well, so he can depend on me when he calls me.”

His friend and teammate Jordan Morris is also in camp, aiming to show that he’s back to full fitness and capable of being an X-factor after his recovery from a torn ACL sustained on loan to Swansea last winter. Roldan likes what he’s seen from the Sounders’ homegrown winger, who logged 104 minutes vs. RSL in his first MLS start since the 2020 MLS Cup final.

“In terms of Jordan, he's looking sharp. He's probably the first one to tell you that the speed of play was a little bit fast initially. But I think it's slowing down for him,” said Roldan. “And the amount of games that he got that were kind of unexpected was really nice. So him being back in the mix is really nice to see and he's doing really well and playing like he never left.”