You could argue that Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan made his debut in El Salvador 12 years ago.
The California-born Roldan was a ball boy in Santa Ana for C.D. FAS, his cousins’ former team and the most decorated club in the Salvadoran Primera División. Back visiting family in his mother’s native country, he would juggle the ball at halftime and the fans would cheer and applaud and encourage him.
Now with the Sounders heading to El Salvador to battle Santa Tecla on Feb. 22 in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League series, Cristian and brother Alex are expecting a warm return to a country with so many family ties.
“Hopefully I can get as many tickets as possible,” Cristian said with a smile. “I expect a lot of my family members to be at the game. It’s going to be a pretty surreal feeling for them and for myself that I’ll be playing in mom’s native country. It’s pretty awesome to see. There’s going to be a lot of emotions.”
Added Alex: “We have great memories there with family. It’s a very soccer-centric place. Every time we’ve gone we’ve had a great feeling being there.”
It’s been roughly eight years since the brothers have returned to El Salvador, but the tiny Central American country of roughly six-and-a-half million people offered Cristian an international call-up on numerous occasions. Cristian debuted for the United States national team last summer, turning down El Salvador as well as his father’s native Guatemala.
Cristian knows better than anyone the quality of the players and clubs in El Salvador and isn’t taking Seattle’s CCL match lightly. He pointed to the quality the country showed in the Gold Cup and its ever-improving development.
“It’s a growing country in terms of soccer,” Cristian said. “The quality is going to be high there. They’re the winners of El Salvador for a reason, and we can’t anticipate them to just fold for us. It’s going to be a difficult match especially with the conditions away from home. We have to take care of business.”