The Seattle Sounders’ recent success in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs is undoubtedly and rightfully linked to the arrival of Nicolás Lodeiro in the summer of 2016. But often overlooked is the emergence of Cristian Roldan around the same time, something arguably just as important.
Prior to Head Coach Brian Schmetzer taking the reins in June 2016, Roldan had started 25 out of 42 career matches. Since then, he’s started 131 of 132 games he’s played in, including 130 in a row before being rotated in the Sounders’ penultimate match of the 2020 season.
Along with Lodeiro, Roldan is the easiest name to pencil into Schmetzer’s Starting XI each week, no matter where Roldan lines up: central mid, right mid, right fullback, No. 10. He’s played them all, and he’s played them all well. His understanding of the game and his endless motor are what make him so valuable and irreplaceable.
If Lodeiro is the Sounders’ engine, Roldan is the gasoline.
In the Sounders’ 2016, ’17 and ’19 postseason runs, each of which ended up with an MLS Cup appearance, Roldan played every single minute, including an additional 60 minutes of extra time. In 2018, when the Portland Timbers eliminated the Sounders in the Western Conference Semifinals, Roldan was injured after 31 minutes in the first leg and missed the second. That is not a coincidence.
Lodeiro, Raúl Ruidíaz and Jordan Morris deservedly get the offensive praise. Stefan Frei is a perennial MLS Goalkeeper of the Year candidate. Kelvin Leerdam and Seattle’s trio of left backs are among the league’s best and most heralded. João Paulo earned votes for MLS Newcomer of the Year. But yet it’s Roldan, week in and week out, whose complete 90-minute shifts connect all the dots.
Schmetzer & Co. will need more of Roldan’s yeoman’s work in the first round of the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs against LAFC (7:30 p.m. PT; ESPN, 950 KJR AM, EL Rey 1360 AM) as the Sounders aim for their third title in five years.