Cristian Roldan arrived in camp just outside Linz, Austria two weeks ago behind the rest of the U-20 U.S. Men’s National Team he’d been invited to join. Roldan’s departure was delayed because he was named to Sounders FC’s 18-man roster for the Colorado Rapids match on April 18. He played the final nine minutes of a 3-1 win, another tidy performance in a rookie campaign suddenly studded with them.
A day later, Roldan was on a plane to Austria to take part in just his second U.S. YNT camp on any level. If that seems hard to believe based on Roldan’s recent form, consider this. He got his first ever call-up in January 2014 a month after he put the finishing touches on his Pac-12 Freshman of the Year campaign at the University of Washington.
Roldan might be a latecomer to the national team scene, but at 19 years old he’s becoming increasingly harder to overlook. After eschewing the Development Academy to play for his Southern California high school and then choosing an up-and-coming Washington program over the higher visibility of SoCal, Roldan is suddenly in line for a possible call-up to the final U.S. roster for the U-20 World Cup in four weeks.
All in a life’s work for one of Sounders FC’s most promising young guns.
“I thought it was good for me,” Roldan said of his time in Austria. “Any time you get international experience, even if it’s youth, you’ve got to embrace it and enjoy it. But you’ve also got to take back what you learned from it. I thought I did well. Obviously I think I’m in form right now, so hopefully I can continue to improve and keep that going.”
Roldan arrived in camp the day before the team’s first match with Qatar, which finished a 2-2 stalemate. He only played 15 minutes to protect his legs, but he logged 65 in a 1-0 win over Croatia toward the end of the week. While Roldan said U-20 manager Tab Ramos and his staff didn’t give him a clear indication of his chances to make the World Cup roster in the coming weeks, his call-up was a good sign. This was the last camp before Ramos picks his final roster for New Zealand, and Roldan’s inclusion could be an indication that Ramos is warming to the idea of bringing the Sounders FC rookie along for the ride.
Plus, if Fulham midfielder Emerson Hyndman is slow to return to 100-percent fitness from a broken collarbone he suffered during CONCACAF qualifying earlier this year, Roldan’s place as the midfield shuttler in Ramos’ 4-3-3 seems even more crucial.
“Hopefully I make it,” said Roldan, who arrived back in Seattle in time for a full week of practice before this weekend’s trip to play NYCFC. “I think I was there for a reason, not just because I’m doing well right now, but because I think it’s a possibility. I didn’t get too much feedback, but I also didn’t want to know too much about it and where I stand, because I don’t want to be let down if I don’t make it.”
Seattle expended a tremendous amount of energy - both literally and figuratively - to secure Roldan in the draft earlier this year. On draft day, newly installed General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey moved quickly from one team’s draft table to another as Roldan continued to fall down the board. The Sounders rated Roldan the No. 2 overall prospect on their big board, but teams kept passing. Could they possibly have a shot at keeping him in Seattle?
Lagerwey found an opening when Real Salt Lake came up with the No. 16 pick, allowing Seattle to trade into that spot to secure the steal of the draft. In the months since, nothing’s dimmed that perspective from Lagerwey’s vantage.
“I think he’s a young player who’s making progress,” Lagerwey said. “We knew part of the reason for taking him was that he’s 19 years old and we thought he had a lot of upside. He’s a good profile player for us in that he’s both technical and hard-working. That’s what we want from the guys we bring into the system now. I think he’s a kid with a bright future. Young players, if you give them too much too quickly they can struggle. And I think if you bring them along and are able to mix them in with veteran groups, I think they learn. I love Cristian’s attitude, his mentality, and that goes a long, long way.”
After an ascendant offseason, Roldan’s played in five of Sounders FC’s first seven matches of the season, including starts against FC Dallas and at LA Galaxy. On the latter occasion, Roldan went a career-high 81 minutes and dazzled a Carson, California crowd that featured a bevy of local friends and family.
Life is good for Roldan these days. But at least as far as he’s concerned, the journey’s only beginning.
“I try to be the best I can every day and I try to make an impact on the team,” Roldan said. “Even if we were the last place team in the Western Conference, either way I want to make an impact on the team. I’d rather be here and developing at 19 with the guys I practice against than anywhere else.”