TUKWILA, Wash. – If Seattle Sounders second-year midfielder Cristian Roldan had been picked where most of the pundits and analysts thought he would be in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, his life would be very different, to put it mildly.
Roldan was one of the most highly rated prospects in last year’s SuperDraft after starring for two seasons at the University of Washington. Few thought he would make it past the top 10 picks.
As it turned out, however, he wouldn’t have to leave Seattle after all. Roldan would unexpectedly fall all the way to No. 16, where the Sounders were waiting after general manager Garth Lagerwey engineered a draft-day trade with Real Salt Lake.
“My whole life would have completely changed [if I had been drafted elsewhere],” Roldan told MLSsoccer.com following Seattle’s Tuesday training session at Starfire Sports. “But I think it turned out for the best for me. I’m very fortunate and lucky to be in this situation.”
Now in his second year with the Sounders, Roldan has already equaled the same amount of starts this year as he had all of last season with 11 and tallied his first professional goal in Seattle’s 2-0 US Open Cup victory over the Kistap Pumas on June 15.
“I feel a lot more comfortable with the team, the environment, the season and the process of being a professional,” Roldan said. “It takes a lot of effort. It’s what you eat, how much you sleep, you have to be dedicated. It’s your job.”
So far, the 21-year-old has been handling that job well, his progression a notable bright spot as Seattle has struggled to a 5-10-2 start.
Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid has deployed him as both a central midfielder and on the wing so far this season, saying on Tuesday that the strides Roldan has made with decision-making, awareness and passing are all factors that have led to his increased role.
ESPN and MLSsoccer.com analyst Brian Dunseth recently likened Roldan’s skillset to current Portland Timbers midfielder Ned Grabavoy – a comparison Roldan says he welcomes with open arms despite the fact that Grabavoy is employed by Seattle’s Cascadia rival.
“Ned Grabavoy and [Timbers midfielder] Diego Valeri are definitely a couple that stand out,” Roldan said. “Those guys unfortunately play for Portland but I like shorter players just because I’m a shorter guy too. I try to emulate guys like that and I think Grabavoy is a good comparison. I’m happy [Dunseth] said that.”
The fortuitous turn of events that led to him getting selected by the Sounders also afforded Roldan a degree of continuity that most recently drafted professional athletes don’t have. He still lives in the same house as he did in college with a few of his former UW teammates, although he says he’s considering moving in with his younger brother Alex, who currently plays for Seattle University.
“My family is here, my brother lives here, my parents make regular trips, which would be harder for them to do if I were on the East Coast or anywhere else,” Roldan said. “But I think it’s all good for me. Nothing has really changed, I just play for the Seattle Sounders now instead of UW.”
Although he says he’s pleased with his uptick in first-team minutes this season, Roldan says there are still facets of his game that he hopes to build upon. Specifically, trying to develop as a two-way player that can offer a consistent attacking threat, in addition to his current role as a more defensive-oriented midfielder.
“Offensively, I can always get better,” he said. “I think as of right now they have a little more confidence in me being more defensive and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m seeing the field so I’m happy with that. But offensively, I think over time I’ll be able to provide a little bit more.
“Honestly, I’d rather win more than anything but if that’s what it takes to contribute to the team then that’s what I hope to do.”