Next in Line: Look out, big brother Cristian, Alex Roldan is carving a name for himself

Alex Roldan vs. SKC 2018-06-06

This is a feature in Issue 12 of Sounders Monthly. Copies are available for free at The NINETY, GuestLink Services locations, Soccer Celebration and Membership Central. You can also access it on the Sounders Mobile App.

Seattle Sounders rookie Alex Roldan never really imagined he’d be a professional soccer player. He had dreams, sure, but so did every kid. He knew that.

Somewhat underrecruited out of high school like older brother Cristian was, Alex spent four years at Seattle University where he scored 14 combined goals in his junior and senior seasons to become one of the premier attacking midfielders in college soccer.

Little did he know when his college career ended last fall that he’d be starting in Major League Soccer for the two-time defending Western Conference champions just four games into his rookie season.

His counterpart in his first professional start? U.S. international defender Graham Zusi and Sporting Kansas City in one of the hardest away venues in the entire league.

“I made sure I knew my role in terms of what KC was going to bring on that right-hand side,” Roldan said of his pregame preparations before the match on April 15. “Graham Zusi is a veteran outside back and has a ton of national caps. I knew it was going to be a tough opponent to go up against for my first start, but I prepared pretty well for the game and I thought I put in a good shift.”

Roldan fared extremely well, and not just for a rookie. He held his own in 88 minutes in a 2-2 draw. He completed 83 percent of his passes from left midfield as well as earned a secondary assist on Cristian’s goal. They became only the seventh set of brothers in MLS history to start together and only the fifth to combine for a goal. After the match, Alex called their parents who had been watching, but they were only interested in Cristian’s finish.

Next in Line: Look out, big brother Cristian, Alex Roldan is carving a name for himself -

Alex Roldan celebrates brother Cristian’s goal against Sporting KC | USA Today Sports

“It wasn’t really about my assist,” Alex said with a laugh. “It’s a great goal, a beautiful goal that Cristian scored that put us up 2-1. The pass I had [to Will Bruin] was just to get [Cristian] there, and the credit goes all to him for putting that ball away into the net.”

Going to college locally in Seattle, Alex tried to get to every Sounders home game he could over the past three years to watch Cristian play. He was there during Cristian’s rookie season in 2015, he watched Cristian help the club to its first MLS Cup in 2016 and was there to see Cristian play his way into the U.S. national team in 2017 with a Herculean campaign in central midfield, leading MLS in tackles and duels won.

The moment of lining up next to his brother wearing the same professional uniform after the last three years was not lost on Alex, but he knew he still had a job to do.

“It was a great feeling to be on the same pitch as my brother,” Alex said, “but that being said, once the game starts my head’s in the game and I’m concentrating and I’m hoping to get three points out of it.”

Before his first start, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer told Alex to be confident, to trust his abilities and what got him to this level. He had earned the right to be in the starting lineup. He just had to prove it.

“It was a good feeling having that opportunity,” said Alex. “A lot of rookies in the league are hoping for that chance, and I was lucky enough to get one. I was fortunate enough to put in a good shift and help my teammates out.”

Next in Line: Look out, big brother Cristian, Alex Roldan is carving a name for himself -

Cristian and Alex Roldan during the national anthem at Sporting KC | Nick Smith

Roldan’s first career start didn’t happen by accident. He had been training well in preseason after the Sounders selected him in the first round of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft in Philadelphia, the same round and location that Seattle drafted Cristian three years earlier out of the University of Washington. It’s hard not to compare Alex to his brother, who is only 13 months his senior but is in his fourth professional season. The temptation is understandable. But he’s still trying to forge his own path in this league while following the successful trajectory of Cristian’s early career.

“That’s a good storyline,” Schmetzer said of the two brothers starting and sharing the field together. “I hate comparing him to Cristian, he’s his own player, but he does have some of the same characteristics that I like. He’s determined, he’s got a little bite to his game. Alex has a lot of nice attacking movements in his game. Cristian, is he a No. 6 or a No. 8? He does some of the dirty work that goes unseen. But then he scores that goal to outdo his brother. It’s good having both on the field, and Alex has a good future if he keeps his head down and keeps playing.”

The competitive banter is not lost on Alex either. When he first signed, he joked that he was a better passer than his brother, who now has three international caps with the United States after making his debut during the Gold Cup last summer. He lives with Cristian, is his roommate on the road and is always looking to him to try and improve.

“If he has any questions, it’s great that I’m there,” said Cristian. “On the field, we’re competitive guys. I don’t want to lose to Alex very often, so I think it makes for a really good dynamic.

“With him being a rookie,” he added with a smile, “it’s great because I can bully him around a little bit and let him take the water bottles instead of me doing it.”

Next in Line: Look out, big brother Cristian, Alex Roldan is carving a name for himself -

Alex Roldan against Minnesota United at CenturyLink Field | Mike Fiechtner

A first start is a nice story and a wonderful beginning for a 21-year-old with a lot of upside, tremendous pedigree and a plethora of veterans in the midfield from whom to learn, but Alex is not resting on his laurels. He knows how hard he’s worked to get where he is and how rare some of these opportunities are that he has.

“It’s great when you have your first career start and you put in a decent performance, but that doesn’t really matter if the next performance is not the best,” Alex said. “One thing I’ll take away from that game is that I have to be consistent if I want to be in this league, and I have to perform day in and day out.”

Alex has only gotten better and has taken his role to heart. Alex started six of the next seven matches since his first one in Kansas City and is looking more and more comfortable in the midfield. Every time his number has been called upon, Alex has answered in impressive fashion and continues to make Schmetzer’s choices difficult when fielding a lineup.

“I’m trying to prove a point here and hopefully get the eyes of the coaches to see the potential that I have,” Alex said. “They’ve taken care of me, and I’m learning a lot from them along with the veterans. I’m picking up a few things from them every day, and that’s helped me grow in a short amount of time. Hopefully I can continue to grow as the season progresses.”



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