Cristian Roldan was immediately thrust into the spotlight at the start of his rookie season. He made his debut in Sounders FC’s season-opening victory over defending Eastern Conference champion New England, then once again came on as a substitute during the second match of the year.
One week after his second MLS appearance, Roldan played in S2’s inaugural USL match and notched the team’s third goal. It seemed like a perfect situation for the 19-year-old: Roldan could compete to earn time with the First Team – a side projected to be among the best in the league – and S2 would surely provide him that opportunity if he wasn’t quite ready for MLS.
But then injuries and international call-ups pushed Roldan into the starting XI for road games against FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy. Two months later, the midfielder is still regularly in the starting lineup and Sounders FC is atop the Western Conference standings.
Heading into another clash with Dallas this weekend, Roldan has made five starts and 10 appearances in MLS play. He hasn’t been loaned down to S2 since that very first game.
“I think I’ve progressed, and I think the coaches have a little more confidence in me,” Roldan said. “I need to get used to playing a little faster and taking less touches on the ball when I’m not in the attacking third. I think that’s where I’ve gotten a little bit better.”
As successful and fun as his rookie season has been, Roldan had hoped to be a member of the U.S. squad at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. The University of Washington product was not named to the U.S. roster despite participating in the team’s final pre-tournament camp in Austria.
However, Roldan also sees the positive side of not being selected. It has allowed him to settle in with the Sounders and become more accustomed to MLS. And it’s paid off for both him and the club, as Roldan has started in three straight games and shown promising signs along the way.
In last week’s 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls, the rookie nearly scored his first MLS goal by directing a header toward the bottom corner that forced Luis Robles into a diving save. Four days earlier against Colorado, Roldan won the ball near the end line and made a cross that led to the game-winning goal. He exited the game to the sound of 40,000 fans chanting his name.
Roldan credits his success to the leadership of one of his veteran teammates.
“Gonzalo Pineda has been very good to me,” he shared. “[Pineda] goes up to me every time I make a mistake or do something good, and he emphasizes what I did wrong or what I did right. I think Gonzalo has helped me a ton.”
Pineda plays the same position that Roldan played during the majority of his two seasons at UW, central attacking midfield. Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid has used the rookie as a winger, the position that captain Brad Evans played last season before switching to centerback.
“I’ve been training there a lot of the time, and I’m starting to embrace that role,” Roldan said. “Hopefully the coaches have confidence in me going forward in that position. Step by step, I’ll make the transition fully.”