Straight Ahead Cristian Roldan Cover V3

The Seattle Sounders continue to prepare for Round One of the 2021 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs against Real Salt Lake (7:30 p.m. PT; FS1, FOX Deportes, 1090 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS) at Lumen Field on November 23. The Rave Green have qualified for 13 consecutive postseasons, reaching MLS Cup in four of the last five years. For the Sounders, there is only one path forward: straight ahead.

In advance of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, we're breaking down the key players to watch. Here's everything you need to know about Cristian Roldan.

ROLE IN THE SQUAD

Roldan is the ultimate Swiss Army Knife and when available might be the easiest lineup choice for Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. Roldan is still just 26 and recently moved into third all-time on the Sounders’ career MLS appearances list with 201. The United States international loves to overload the right side in Seattle’s attack and make darting runs in behind to unbalance defenses. He also makes a living on late-arriving runs into the box and always seems to pop up in the right place at the right time. His defensive work also speaks for itself, as his motor and tenacity in central midfield causes fits for opponents.

REGULAR SEASON RECAP

Roldan played a more offensive role this season, partially because of the extended absence of playmaker Nicolás Lodeiro and partially because of the tremendous lockdown play in defensive midfield by João Paulo. Roldan tied a career-high in goals with six and added six assists. He also did a lot of winning. The 2021 MLS All-Star Game captain played in 24 straight matches in 2021 for club, country and league without a loss before finally suffering a defeat on Aug. 29. That’s nearly eight full months unbeaten and his consistent play was an integral part in that.

BEST QUOTE ABOUT ROLDAN

United States Head Coach Gregg Berhalter referred to Roldan this summer as his “ace in the hole,” referencing Roldan’s continued use off the USMNT bench to help win matches. It may appear odd to choose a quote about Roldan not getting starting minutes, but it underlies his importance on the domestic and international level. He simply changes games. Roldan’s impact is palpable and contagious, and one could create an entire team of Cristian Roldans and have a legitimate chance at winning. He does so many things at such a high level.

TOP PLAY OF 2021

There were many this year (as there normally are), but Roldan’s vicious left-footed volley in a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on May 12 is one of the Sounders’ best goals in a season full of plenty of them.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

With the injury statuses of Lodeiro and Raúl Ruidíaz still questionable and with Jordan Morris working his way back to full fitness, Roldan will likely need to channel the offensive spark that he found in late September and early October. He scored in four consecutive matches in both the Leagues Cup and MLS play and was a weapon with those aforementioned late-arriving runs. He is one of the leaders on a veteran-laden team and has 23 matches of playoff experience. The Sounders will need to lean on him in clutch moments in their quest for their fifth Western Conference Championship in six years. One of the teams he’s already scored against this season: Real Salt Lake, who visit Lumen Field in the opening round of the playoffs on Tuesday, Nov. 23 (7:30 p.m. PT; FS1, FOX Deportes, 1090 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS).

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