SEATTLE — Cristian Roldan’s game-winning goal against Real Salt Lake on Sunday was perhaps the best representation of how the Seattle Sounders’ season has gone over the last two-plus months.
Roman Torres headed a powerful shot on goal off a corner kick. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando saved it, but the rebound fell to Roldan, who was in the right spot — an irony considering he was playing out of position.
With Andreas Ivanschitz sidelined with a right knee sprain, interim head coach Brain Schmeter opted to start Erik Friberg in Roldan’s normal defensive midfield spot and shift Roldan to the right flank. The second-year player has come into his own in 2016, flourishing into a reliable and sedulous central pillar in Schmetzer’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
“The kid has blossomed, he’s done everything,” said Schmetzer. “That wasn’t his normal position and he showed that he can still make an impact playing in games. That’s a position that he’s able to play because he’s versatile.
“He gladly went out there and said, ‘I get it. I’ll do whatever it takes for the team.’”
Roldan has made a giant leap from his rookie to his sophomore season, due in large part to former Sounder and Mexican international Gonzalo Pineda, who retired after last season. Roldan and Pineda were roommates on the road last year and would stay up until midnight during preseason games analyzing tape, and under Pineda’s tutelage, Roldan learned how to learn. Pineda taught him what to look for on film that he can translate onto the training field and improve.
“[Pineda is an] incredible human being, I owe him a ton,” said Roldan. “He’s a great teammate and even better person…We text each other every now and then. He tweets at me. He’s very happy with how things are going.
“He always has a special place in his heart for me, and I’m very fortunate that he liked me as a person and as a player.”
Roldan has played multiple positions this year for Schmetzer, including left back against Houston a week and a half ago. The Sounders were already short on defenders, and when Tony Alfaro exited with a cramp in the 74th minute, Schmetzer brought on forward Oalex Anderson, slid Nelson Valdez back into the midfield and pushed Roldan to left back.
One gets the sense that Schmetzer would feel comfortable playing Roldan in any of the 10 field positions and expect him to perform.
“I’m seeing the field more than ever,” Roldan said. “[Schmetzer] really believes that I can impact the game at any position that he puts me in."
Said right fullback Tyrone Mears, who played behind Roldan against RSL: “For such a young player, he’s got really good ability on the ball. He can slot anywhere in the midfield. He’s one of the players that you can count on.”
The Sounders qualified for the postseason for the eighth consecutive season on Sunday, a feat that seemed Herculean if not downright impossible in late July. Yet, the team has rallied and found a collective belief.
In its smallest form, it’s simply trusting a player to do his job, no matter where on the field he plays.
And on Roldan’s game-winner, he wasn’t where he was expected to be. He was where he needed to be.
“Really credit to [Schmetzer] and the coaching staff for having that belief in me,” said Roldan. “I want to prove them right.”