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Cristian Roldan might just be the most valuable player in MLS

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Cristian Roldan isn’t the league’s best player, but no one gives a team more bang for the buck.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Once upon a time, Bill Simmons came up with the idea of ranking all the players in the NBA by their trade value. Jonah Keri and Dave Cameron extended that idea to MLB. As far as I know, no one has attempted this for MLS. However, if they did, you might be surprised who ended up on top.

Cristian Roldan is not the best player in MLS. Cristian Roldan is not even the best player on the Sounders. Cristian Roldan might very well be the most valuable Sounder. Cristian Roldan might be the most valuable player in the entire league. At first glance that sounds like a crazy statement to make, but if you really stop to think about it, you just might realize how valuable he is.

Before we start going crazy with numbers, we can do a quick sanity check to see if it’s crazy to value Roldan that highly. WhoScored may not be the most accurate rating site out there, but their average ratings of all MLS players has Roldan at seven. Just .01 behind Sebastian Giovinco and .02 ahead of Miguel Almiron. If you prefer the eye test, Realio’s ratings had him as the team MVP with a rating of 6.879 and eight times he was the Man of the Match. Only Victor Rodriguez surpassed him in rating, and he was MOTM two more times than any other Sounder.

Now that we’ve concluded that it isn’t outrageous to say Roldan might be the most valuable player in the league, we can start playing with numbers. First we’ll compare him to his contemporaries on offense.

Offensive statistics of MLS midfielders

Name Minutes Goals Assists Key Passes xG xA
Name Minutes Goals Assists Key Passes xG xA
Cristian Roldan 3320 6 2 43 4.3 5.3
Michael Bradley 3060 0 2 28 0.53 2.21
Wil Trapp 3485 0 4 20 0.22 1.18
Kellyn Acosta 1895 3 2 27 3.76 2.17
Darlington Nagbe 2481 3 2 35 1.95 2.44
Osvaldo Alonso 2090 1 0 12 1.62 1
Dax McCarty 2555 0 4 26 1.14 2.4
Diego Chara 2576 1 1 27 1.05 2.04
Benny Feilhaber 2361 5 1 64 6.36 6.3
Sacha Kljestan 2810 2 9 111 2.62 11.33
Bastian Schwiensteiger 2019 3 2 34 1.79 2.75
Roldan offensive production American Soccer Analysis

Roldan compares very favorably to this group of players. Offensively, he’s better than the ones considered straight defensive players, and he’s even better than someone like Nagbe who’s considered an attacking mid. He isn’t quite the equal of Feilhaber or Kljestan (at least by expected goals and assists), but he’s within shouting distance. Given his extra defensive responsibilities (not to mention his time playing fullback and as a lone holding mid), that says some great things about him.

But how does he compare defensively to these players?

Defensive statistics of MLS midfielders

Name Minutes Tackles Attempted Tackles Clearances Interceptions
Name Minutes Tackles Attempted Tackles Clearances Interceptions
Cristian Roldan 3320 131 180 42 50
Michael Bradley 3060 76 122 41 64
Wil Trapp 3485 89 113 55 64
Kellyn Acosta 1895 41 49 8 18
Darlington Nagbe 2481 43 54 9 15
Osvaldo Alonso 2090 66 83 35 33
Dax McCarty 2555 64 87 32 42
Diego Chara 2576 101 133 27 44
Benny Feilhaber 2361 21 56 17 11
Sacha Kljestan 2810 43 69 31 19
Bastian Schwiensteiger 2019 42 60 32 27
Roldan defensive statistics Who Scored

Again, he compares favorably to the traditional defensive players, and he blows the more attack-minded players out of the water.

Of course those stats might not capture all there is to Roldan’s game. It’s hard to compare Roldan to defensive mids, because he passes more in the offensive third than they do. Likewise, it’s hard to compare him to attacking mids, because he passes less in the offensive third than they do. American Soccer Analysis has an interesting concept called xG Chain, which tries to get around this by figuring out a player’s contribution to every shot and assist.

xG Chain MLS midfielders

Name xG Chain Minutes xGC/96 xG xA xG+xA xBuildup GC xBuildup GC/96 xBuildup %
Name xG Chain Minutes xGC/96 xG xA xG+xA xBuildup GC xBuildup GC/96 xBuildup %
Nico Lodeiro 28.43 3111 0.88 6.71 9.92 16.63 11.8 0.36 41.50%
Diego Valeri 24.37 3002 0.78 13.49 6.17 19.66 4.71 0.15 19.30%
Clint Dempsey 22.33 2395 0.89 14.41 3.02 17.43 4.9 0.2 21.90%
Lee Nguyen 21.05 2656 0.76 7.89 6.36 14.25 6.8 0.25 32.30%
Miguel Almiron 20.48 2523 0.78 7.58 4.95 12.53 7.95 0.3 38.80%
Sacha Kljestan 20.1 2742 0.7 2.62 8.62 11.24 8.85 0.31 44.10%
Victor Vazquez 19.93 2473 0.77 5.37 6.29 11.65 8.28 0.32 41.50%
Maxi Moralez 18.91 2650 0.68 4.38 6.71 11.09 7.82 0.28 41.40%
Albert Rusnak 18.62 2723 0.66 5.34 5.9 11.24 7.39 0.26 39.70%
Fredrico Higuain 17.26 2342 0.71 6.02 5.12 11.13 6.13 0.25 35.50%
Benny Feilhaber 16.67 2407 0.67 6.36 5.45 11.81 4.86 0.19 29.20%
Yamil Asad 16.25 2881 0.54 4.54 3.98 8.52 7.73 0.26 47.60%
Kevin Molino 16.13 2634 0.59 8.06 3.39 11.45 4.68 0.17 29.00%
Cristian Roldan 16.04 3106 0.5 4.83 3.94 8.77 7.27 0.22 45.30%
Bastian Schweinsteiger 12.91 2091 0.59 1.79 1.89 3.67 9.23 0.42 71.50%
Michael Bradley 12.77 2842 0.43 0.53 2.14 2.68 10.09 0.34 79.00%
Dax McCarty 12.42 2585 0.46 1.14 2.15 3.29 9.13 0.34 73.50%
Darlington Nagbe 11.28 2472 0.44 1.95 1.23 3.18 8.09 0.31 71.80%
Roldan xG Chain American Soccer Analysis

Comparing Roldan to other players who are nominally central midfielders, he fits in very favorably. The most similar players to him are Albert Rusnak, Maxi Moralez, Victor Vazquez, Yamil Asad, and Sacha Kljestan. Of those players, only Kljestan put up truly superior offensive numbers, and I wouldn’t ask any of them to be a lone holding midfielder or play fullback; two things Roldan can easily do.

Of course you may look at that chart and see those guys ahead of him (Nicolas Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey, especially) and wonder how Roldan can be that valuable when those guys are clearly doing more. Which brings us to the final part of value.

Compensation of midfielders

Name Compensation
Name Compensation
Cristian Roldan $137,000.00
Nicolas Lodeiro $1,743,428.57
Clint Dempsey $3,892,933.50
Michael Bradley $6,500,000.00
Victor Vazquez $700,000.00
Wil Trapp $350,000.00
Kellyn Acosta $280,000.00
Diego Chara $522,000.00
Bastian Schweinsteiger $5,400,000.00
Kevin Molino $402,504.00
Lee Nguyen $500,000.00
Sacha Kljestan $787,500.00
Miguel Almiron $2,297,000.00
Albert Rusnak $882,812.50
Dax McCarty $412,500.08
Diego Valeri $2,607,500.00
Maxi Moralez $2,000,000.04
Yamil Asad $150,000.00
Benny Feilhaber $600,000.00
Fedrico Higuain $1,050,000.00
Roldan Compensation MLS Players Union

Roldan makes less than everyone on this list. If you omit Asad, who’s on loan and probably couldn’t return for a comparable price, Roldan makes less than half of the next closest player. You could pay 10 Roldans for the price of one Lodeiro. You could pay 47 Roldans for one Michael Bradley.

That is what makes Roldan such a valuable player. He can simultaneously be one of the top five defensive mids in the league, moonlight as a top 10 attacking midfielder, play fullback in a pinch, and do it all while barely using any cap space. If transfer fees weren’t a thing, I don’t know that there is a player in MLS I would trade Roldan for straight up. Given the salaries of the comparable players, Roldan would be a bargin at three or four times the price.