When the Seattle Sounders visit the Chicago Fire on Saturday (10 a.m. PT; JOEtv, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM), midfielders Cristian Roldan and Djordje Mihailović will face off for the first time.
Although the two have never played against each other at the professional level, they formed a close bond a couple months ago at the United States national team’s January camp. Roldan and Mihailović roomed together in Chula Vista, Calif., and hit it off instantly.
“I love Djordje, he’s a goofball,” said Roldan. “From the minute I met him, I felt like he was going to be a nice guy, a funny guy. He has a good head on his shoulders.”
Mihailović, 20, signed a Homegrown deal with the Fire in 2017. He recorded a goal and two assists in seven starts for the Fire before tearing his ACL in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. He returned for nine matches at the end of 2018, scoring once and chipping in four assists and landing on U.S. Head Coach Gregg Berhalter’s radar.
Roldan, meanwhile, has been earning continuous call-ups since he debuted on the international stage during the 2017 Gold Cup. Berhalter on Tuesday called in Roldan and teammate Jordan Morris for upcoming March friendlies.
Mihailović and Roldan forged a chemistry that translated onto the field as well. It was necessary, too. U.S. Berhalter implemented a complex system, one that Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola employs, with Roldan and Mihailović as the focal points in the middle of the park.
“He’s a great guy, I love Cristian,” Mihailović told SoundersFC.com on Tuesday. “It took a lot of relationships outside the field to really succeed at that position. We had to understand where each other was at all times. Rooming with him and getting to know him as well as I did off the field really helped us succeed on the field.”
Roldan and Mihailović each started the United States’ two friendlies, the first a 3-0 win over Panama at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., and the second a 2-0 win over Costa Rica at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif. Mihailović opened the scoring against Panama for his first international goal in his first cap, while Roldan went the full 90 in both matches.
“He’s a very smooth player and he filled a role really well, the No. 10 role,” Roldan said of Mihailović. “He’s finding success in Chicago right now in a similar role. He finds those pockets really well, he turns, his technical ability is world-class.”
The same way Mihailović and Roldan’s understanding helped form a strong partnership in January, each will try and get the better of the other as they battle for control in the midfield on Saturday.
“It’s going to be exciting, I’m looking forward to it,” Mihailović said of playing against Roldan. “It’s going to be a great experience and a great challenge because he’s a great player and someone that I can learn from.”
Added Roldan: “I will have to be a little more physical than he wants me to be, but he can turn with one yard, two yards. I have to always be mindful of him in those tight spaces. I need to try and fill those passing lanes and not let the ball get to him.
“He can strike the ball really well. I hope he doesn’t do that against us.”