SEATTLE — Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan is younger than most college seniors. Still just 21, he couldn’t even legally drink alcohol in the United States until last June.
Yet there was Roldan on Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, leading the Sounders onto the pitch in a friendly against Mexico’s Club Necaxa, captain’s armband fastened securely around his left bicep. Behind him were full-grown men, some in their thirties, following their third-year defensive midfielder against Liga MX competition.
How Roldan earned the captaincy is two-fold. The Sounders were without four internationals and an injured Jordan Morris, who was sent home from U.S. camp on Saturday. Other veterans, including regular captain Osvaldo Alonso, rested. So that left head coach Brian Schmetzer with a choice to make, one that ultimately was an easy one.
“Sometimes you make decisions to test people and sometimes you make decisions to reward people,” Schmetzer said. “Sometimes you make decisions to see how people react in certain situations. I think Cristian has the ability to be a leader on the team.
“Now, I’m not forcing that on him,” he continued, “I just want to see how he would react, respond and let him grow a little bit because hopefully we have him for many, many years.”
Roldan said Schmetzer did not have much of a conversation before he handed the armband to his young defensive midfielder. Roldan was surprised, but honored.
“I took it as a leadership role,” Roldan said. “I was a little more vocal, but at the same time, it was the same game that I’d been playing. I gave my effort, I played with my heart, and that’s always going to be the same way I go about games.”
Roldan played all 90 minutes in the Sounders’ 1-1 draw with Necaxa, and he was his normal, bullish self in the center of the park. He was crisp with his passing and strong in his defensive duties. Schmetzer lauded how well Roldan, whose effort and maturity on the field belies his age, organized his teammates in front of him and kept their shape. It’s something Schmetzer knew Roldan could handle with aplomb.
“I’m pretty young at this point,” Roldan said, “but that just shows how much confidence [Schmetzer] has in me and hopefully I can always prove him right.”