TUKWILA, Wash. – Two months removed from their MLS Cup defeat to Toronto FC, it’s time to get back to work for the Seattle Sounders.
The first step? CONCACAF Champions League, where Seattle are set to get their 2018 campaign underway next Thursday in the road leg of their series with Santa Tecla of the Salvadoran Primera Division.
It’s a matchup that will put Seattle’s sibling duo of Cristian and Alex Roldan in familiar surroundings. In their younger years, the Roldans would take trips from their hometown of Pico Rivera, California to El Salvador to visit the extended family of their mother, Ana. On those trips, young Cristian used to work as a ball boy for Santa Ana-based side CD Fas and would juggle at halftime to entertain fans.
Speaking with reporters this week, both Roldan brothers said they’re expecting a large contingent of family to be at next week’s match, even though they haven’t been to their mother’s home country since they were kids.
“I expect a lot of my family members to be at the game; hopefully I can get as many tickets as possible,” said Cristian. “It’s going to be a pretty surreal feeling for them, I think, and for myself. I’ll be playing in my mom’s native country and it’s pretty awesome to see. I think there’s going to be a lot of emotions on my side of the family.
Added Alex: “It’s been a while since we’ve been there, but we have great memories with family. It’s a very soccer-centric place. Every time we’ve gone, we’ve made great memories.”
Cristian, who was heavily courted by the Salvadoran national team before deciding to play for the United States, also said that his time spent in El Salvador gives him a degree of insight as to what the Sounders can expect from their upcoming CCL opposition. While the Salvadoran league might not be at the level of some of the others in CONCACAF, he said, El Salvador is a soccer-mad country where the sport is growing all the time.
Throw in the high-stakes, unpredictable nature of CCL, where the road atmospheres can be notoriously hostile, and the Sounders are in store for a highly competitive first leg before returning to Seattle for the second leg of the series on March 1.
“El Salvador has quality players. You saw it in the [CONCACAF] Gold Cup,” Cristian said. “They come from our league [MLS], the USL and the Salvadorian league. It’s a growing country in terms of soccer. They have a lot of young guys that are improving each and every day.
“So, I think the quality is going to be high. They’re the [champions] of El Salvador for a reason, we can’t anticipate them folding for us. It’s going to be a difficult match. And especially with the conditions, away from home, we’ve got to take care of business.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Sounders forward Will Bruin, who has been a part of two CCL cycles dating back to his six-year stint with the Houston Dynamo.
“You can’t overlook it at all,” Bruin said. “They want to show they can compete with MLS and with Mexico and the bigger leagues in North America. Every player could be thinking, ‘Look, if I show out here I could have the chance to move to a [bigger league].’ They’re going to come out firing. It’s a huge game for them and for us as well, but if we overlook it we could find ourselves in a hole.”