Roldan and Leerdam
Charis Wilson

Cristian Roldan, Kelvin Leerdam partnership critical to Seattle Sounders’ success

After the Seattle Sounders thumped the Colorado Rapids 4-0 on Saturday, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer was asked about the performance of his fullbacks. Zooming out a bit, he invoked not only the role of the outside backs in his team’s system, but how they interact with the attacking midfielders ahead of them.

In particular, Schmetzer praised the synergetic effect of Cristian Roldan and Kelvin Leerdam playing on the righthand side.

“They’ve got a pretty good relationship going,” said Schmetzer. “When Kelvin goes, Cristian can drop. Their movement, they’re in sync a little bit better. So, I like that side to be a little bit more fluid. Who comes inside, who stays outside, those guys are more interchangeable.”

After the pair combined for eight key passes, two assists, seven tackles, three interceptions and nine defensive recovers in Seattle’s demolition of Colorado, it’s safe to say that their partnership is beginning to take root within the Sounders’ game model.

“I think our partnership has been developing,” said Roldan. “Especially in the last couple of games, I think we’ve been pretty effective. I still think that we can get better, but it’s definitely a start to some good chemistry and hopefully many more goals.”

Throughout the club’s historic nine-game winning streak, one question kept popping up: do the Sounders have a discernible ‘style?’

Since the mid-Summer turnaround, the team has employed a pretty recognizable game model. They’ll typically line up in a 4-2-3-1, which can morph into a back three when the team is in possession, as Gustav Svensson drops into the gap between Chad Marshall and Kim Kee-hee. This enables the two outside backs to push higher up the pitch, providing width in possession while simultaneously pinning back the opposition’s wide attackers, which limits the team’s exposure in counterattacking scenarios. With the outside backs pushed high, the wide midfielders can pinch inside a bit to establish sustained possession as they combine, swap places and create numerical overloads all over the final third.

A tactical wrinkle that emerged from the Sounders’ resounding win over Colorado is the unpredictability of the Roldan-Leerdam partnership, with both players employing their technical acuity and tactical acumen to generate chances on the right flank.

“I think Kelvin and I share similar characteristics,” said Roldan. “We’re not the fastest or the strongest players, but we’re definitely smart on the field and we pick and choose our times to go forward, and other times to press and defend. Ultimately, Kelvin is a very smart player and picks the right times to really bomb forward and help me going forward.”

Part of their shared understanding can be traced back to Roldan’s versatility. Nominally a No. 8, he has spent various chunks of the season playing as a No. 6, a No. 10, a right midfielder and a right back.

Roldan sizes up his passing options in the second half against the Colorado Rapids | Mike Fiechtner

According to Roldan, his time spent playing as a right back has been integral in the development of his synergetic partnership with Leerdam.

“I think playing right back when Kelvin was absent definitely helped us going forward because I understand where he needs to be, when he needs to be bomb forward,” he said. “If he needs someone to cover him, I understand that and I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit. I’m pretty content with him overlapping as much as possible because in the end, we play 2-v-1 most of the game.”

In the last eight matches that Roldan and Leerdam have lined up together on the righthand side of Seattle’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the club has registered a record of 8-1-0 with a plus-16 goal differential. As the pair continues to build chemistry and a shared understanding, the Sounders will find plenty of success from the right side.