For the first few years of Cristian Roldan’s professional career, he never put his hand over his heart for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before matches. Born in the United States to a Guatemalan father and Salvadoran mother, the southern California native wanted to wait for an opportunity at the international level where he was eligible to compete for all three nations.
In July 2017, Roldan earned his first United States appearance. Now, more than five years and 32 caps later, he’s heading to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar as a part of the USMNT’s 26-man roster.
“My first call is to my parents,” Roldan said. “It’s something that I will get really emotional about because it’s always a dream of ours as professional athletes, at young aspiring kids, our goal is always to reach the highest level in sports…it’s a dream come true.”
Roldan has been a part of U.S. Head Coach Gregg Berhalter’s plans over the last few years and his play has earned him that right. The 27-year-old Swiss Army Knife has already amassed an impressive 227 appearances for the Sounders in his eight-year career. He has 32 goals and 37 assists in the MLS regular season and has been a catalyst on a Seattle side that has won three major trophies, including becoming the first MLS team to win the modern iteration of the Concacaf Champions League this past May.
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“We talk about Seattle, and I could go on about the University of Washington as well,” he said. “Seattle Sounders in general have elevated my game. I’ve gotten so many meaningful minutes. I’ve won multiple trophies and played in really big games. So, I know that I’m well prepared for this moment, for this camp. And I thank Seattle for being part of that.”
Although Roldan has spent much time of late on the wing for the Sounders, he’s a central midfielder by trade. That’s likely where he’ll find the pitch if and when he plays in Qatar, especially with tons of depth out wide. He’ll be competing for minutes in the middle alongside the likes of Leeds United’s Tyler Adams, Juventus’ Weston McKennie and Valencia’s Yunus Musah.
Still, the opportunity to represent one’s country in the largest and most prestigious event in the world is not lost on Roldan, and he’s trying to soak in the whole process as best he can.
“I think the journey with the national team has been great for me personally,” he said. “I’ve made some long-lasting friends, I’ve been able to represent a country of the magnitude of the United States. So, for me that’s a huge honor and will continue to be an honor…All the memories I’ve made is already something I will talk to my kids about.”
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Those memories will be something the next generation of young Americans will remember as well. Roldan recalls watching former USMNT legend and Sounders teammate Clint Dempsey starring in several World Cups. Watching Dempsey and others play growing up is a bit of a surreal experience, Roldan noted, and then having the chance to play alongside some of them for club and country is uniquely special.
Roldan will also be bringing his entire family and extended family with him to the Middle East. To be able to bring as many people who supported him at such a young age is immensely important to him, and he wants to demonstrate his gratitude for everything they’ve done.
One thing is for sure: Just before the United States’ first match begins against Wales on Monday, Nov. 21, Roldan will have his hand over his heart as he realizes a childhood dream.
“Listening to the national anthem will be very emotional,” he said. “The United States has given so much to our family, so it’s about giving back to the country that gave us so much.
“For us to be able to be out there and represent all those people who support us is something that we should never take for granted.”