With a 1-0 win over the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday, the Sounders moved into the top spot in Major League Soccer. It was their seventh win of the season, but unlike the previous six wins, this performance was built on the back of Cristian Roldan, the Sounders first-round draft pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft.
For a player who was for all intents and purposes a central attacking midfielder with a bent towards being a deep-lying playmaker, Roldan has spent most of this season deployed out wide on the right wing. Unlike the past appearances though, Roldan started this match and put in nearly 70 highly capable minutes.
Roldan passing chart via Squawka.com
Sounders Average Position Chart via WhoScored.com
Sounder Attack Direction via WhoScored.com
As the right-side wide midfielder, Roldan played a tactically astute game, pushing high in possession and pinning back the Colorado fullback, Marc Burch. It was a strategy that would have yielded more impressive results against Michael Harrington (who is a much more aggressive fullback), but against Burch it was still an effective strategy.
With Roldan high and challenging the fullback, this allowed Tyrone Mears to move up in support. Rather than overlapping constantly, Mears instead mostly offered an outlet for Roldan to play possession off before driving forward in attack. Combined with Andy Rose, the trio worked the space down the right flank, maintaining possession and recycling play through Osvaldo Alonso and the center backs when required.
While none of Roldan's stats jump off the pag (52 touches, 88% passing success, 2 shots, 1 tackle, 1 interception), he was nevertheless an instrumental piece of opening space and it was his off-ball movement that really facilitated the Sounders control in the first half.
Roldan's performance in the second half wasn't quite so impressive, as Colorado's introduction of Juan Ramirez threw a huge kink in the works. The Argentine attacking midfielder frequently cut inside, drifting off Kevin Doyle and causing issues for the Sounders defense. With Roldan tracking back more and more on defense (and Ramirez spinning Mears like a top), the 20-year-old eventually ran himself into the ground by the 55th minute by trying to both push play high and track back.
While that particular performance doesn't sound astounding, it's not something you commonly see from a 19-year-old player. That ability to remain tactically astute, respond to the game around you, and adapt your play to the opposition's main threats is one of the later skills to come in the development cycle for any player. And it's a skill that Roldan is already showing he can bring in spades for Sigi Schmid and the Seattle Sounders.
And we know he has the technical skills: