Cristian Roldan was once the 19-year-old upstart midfielder trying to break into the Seattle Sounders' starting XI, so when he has thoughts on Seattle's next generation of young talent, his words carry some weight.
This year, the young player that has burst onto the scene in Seattle is homegrown defensive midfielder Josh Atencio, who drew his second straight start to begin Seattle's MLS campaign on Saturday. After a positive debut in the Sounders' 4-0 season-opening win over Minnesota United last weekend, Atencio drew an even tougher assignment in Week 2 at LAFC, and put in another impressive shift in the midfield as Seattle took a 1-1 road draw.
Asked his thoughts on Atencio on his postgame video call after Saturday's game, Roldan said that he's been as impressed as his teammates have with Atencio's preseason rise and performance through the first two weeks of the league campaign, which has been significant in the absence of injured star Nicolas Lodeiro.
"I think Josh is a smart player, a player that always wants to improve, is eager and will take information extremely well," Roldan said. "He was doing extremely well last year, and you could see the progress he had made, that he came into preseason really sharp, really fit. He's made an impact obviously in the first two games. There's still things that he can improve on, learn. Like I said, one of his characteristics is that he's eager and sometimes that can get the best of him with wanting the ball in tough situations. So, he'll learn those situations, but he's impressed, he's obviously good enough to start on this team. And it's great to see young guys step into a role when it's needed.
"Having Nico out, pushing me forward and putting a really fit guy in the midfield is certainly helping us."
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer is typically measured when asked about young players, perhaps at the risk of too much praise getting to their heads. But he doesn't shy away from speaking highly of them either when he feels it's earned, with the coach giving another positive assessment of the 19-year-old Bellevue, Washington, native.
Atencio has taken the lion's share of the minutes among Seattle's group of homegrowns looking to make an impact this season, but fellow academy product Ethan Dobbelaere also made a second straight cameo off the bench on Saturday.
"I mean, look, Josh was very good again. Exceeded our expectations,"Schmetzer said. "That was a tough game for the kid to come in and play, he played well. He had a couple little moments where we'll fine-tune it, he'll play better.
"I'm very pleased with the younger players, all of them on our squad. They work every day, they're learning every day. So, happy and again, Josh had another good performance."
How many minutes will be left for players like Atencio and Dobbelaere as Seattle gets healthier remains to be seen. Once Lodeiro gets back to full health, the Uruguayan will likely slot back into the XI and push Roldan back to his normal spot in the defensive midfield, meaning that Atencio figures to be back to a substitute role in Seattle's first-choice lineup.
Still, Schmetzer answered in the affirmative when asked if Atencio still had a path to regular first-team minutes, even when the team is back to full strength.
"Sure, of course there is," Schmetzer said. "He's a good kid, good player."