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Jane Gershovich

Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan embraces familiar challenge of playing multiple positions

Entering his sixth season as a professional, Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan faces a new yet familiar challenge.

Known for his versatility and limitless engine, Roldan has played virtually every position on the pitch during his tenure in Rave Green, with the exception of center back and goalkeeper. While he’s cemented himself as one of the league’s best central midfielders, he’s also started over 30 MLS matches as a right winger.

“It seems like I might float where I’m supposed to be needed,” said Roldan. “I’m always a team player and I’m always going to play the position I’m being asked to. Maybe out wide, maybe at center mid, depending on injuries or depending on our signings. It’s still a work in progress. We’ll see. As games go by, as players need rest, you’ll see me in both center mid and out wide at right wing.”

With the signing of Brazilian Designated Player João Paulo, Roldan, who has racked up over 150 MLS starts before turning 25, is enthusiastic about the prospect of possibly spending more time in an attacking role.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said last week. “It’s always a new challenge playing more attacking, out wide and crashing the back-post scoring goals rather than defending and doing the dirty work. I’m excited. It’s another aspect of my game I can improve on and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

A student of the game, Roldan’s cerebral approach to his craft allows him to thrive no matter where he lines up on the pitch. His sweeping skillset, highlighted by his ability to boss the game on both sides of the ball, makes him a unique yet extremely effective player out on the wing.

“I [like to] come inside to those center mid areas, it’s my version of a right winger,” noted Roldan. “I certainly feel comfortable out there. I played there in college, I’ve played there a couple of years in Seattle and with the national team. I’m really looking forward to getting up and down the field.”

Roldan’s suitability to playing on the wing is backed by his productivity. In 2018, the team posted a 12-2-1 record in matches where he started out on the right, with Seattle’s No. 7 posting three goals and four assists. Although it’s a small sample size, he notched three goals and two assists from just seven starts there in 2019.

Part of what makes Roldan so effective in the attacking phase of the game are his vertical runs off the ball. With João Paulo operating as a deep-lying playmaker, Roldan is eager link up with his new teammate.

“João Paulo’s a good passer of the ball. I’m excited for him to look for Jordan and myself in behind the defense.”

Ultimately, Roldan’s impact on the wing will be determined by his chemistry with right back Kelvin Leerdam, as the pair will be asked to organically swap roles within the flow of the game. The closed-door scrimmage against Sacramento Republic, where the dynamic duo dovetailed and interchanged all afternoon, was a positive sign for their on-field relationship as the season edges near.

“Counter movements are extremely important when you’re playing right mid,” noted Roldan. “Pretending to make a run in behind the left back and then coming to and gaining that 2-3 yards of space. When Kelvin is going forward, does the left back hold because he’s worried about Kelvin? Then I’m able to turn. Those two things are very important.”

Roldan and Leerdam have plenty of experience manning the right flank together, as they made an extremely influential pairing down the stretch in 2018. Both attack-minded players who are more than capable defensively, their partnership down the flanks will make Seattle a more dynamic and dominant force in every phase of the game.

It’s unclear exactly where Roldan will play once the 2020 season gets underway. But one thing is clear: if he’s asked to play out on the wing, he’s more than up for the challenge.