In 2016, Cristian Roldan settled into a role as Seattle Sounders FC’s “other defensive midfielder.” No longer was he played as a right mid, except in dire circumstances. Instead, he started alongside Osvaldo Alonso. The Husky and California native became part of a midfield that forced any and all attackers wide, because facing both Alonso and Roldan is a nightmare.
The ranking is based on several hundred Sounder at Heart readers’ votes. Realio rated every single MLS regular season and playoff game as well as the two CONCACAF Champions League matches. He did not rate USL or USOC play.
Cristian Roldan 2016
Roldan has yet to fully fill out his passing tree, especially at range. Roldan is tidy with short balls and can use his dribbling skills to break through a defense. His astute positioning provides the Sounders attack with an easy outlet in central midfield, while also his lung-busting runs forward can often shock defenses. Roldan is still establishing a shot that forces defenses to respect it, but he’s surprisingly good at heading the ball for a small dude. Should not be a target on set-pieces, but will be valuable either picking out scraps, heading in a goal, or stopping a counter.
Excellent positioning that prevents other teams from threading passes, and his quick feet and vision helps him intercept passes well. Strong ability to read the pass after the pass, covering future lanes not just the current ones. Larger players can cause an issue, but Roldan is willing to go in hard when needed. Good ball winner when he goes to ground, but can improve on his timing. Should be allowed to roam in dead ball situations, where he can pursue the ball with hunger.
Cristian fell in the draft, partly because he lacked typical MLS tools. He isn’t particularly fast. He’s slight of build. But the way he uses his frame is incredible. He also has a motor that will not stop going. He’s as quick in the 90th minute as he is in the first.
A lot of you might be surprised to be reminded that Cristian Roldan wasn’t that great early in the 2016 season. He bounced around to a number of positions, and his scores fluctuated from a bit under to a bit over MLS average. The big change from 2015 was Cristian being let loose in the middle of the field more, instead of playing winger and this came with a pretty large learning curve.
After average scores in the CCL games, Roldan appeared 19 times for Sigi Schmid, earning a respectable 5.63 rating. This was right on pace with his 2015 season ratings, and while pretty good, there wasn’t a lot notable about these showings. The big change for Roldan came with the introduction of Nico Lodeiro, Roman Torres, and Brian Schmetzer midseason. Moved into a more dual holding mid role opposite Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian blew up the remainder of the year. His performance level and on-field confidence rose sharply. Roldan had 14 MLS appearances for Coach Schmetzer and earned an impressive 6.79 rating in those games, which is an astounding increase of over an entire ratings point from earlier in the year. Roldan looked fantastic in this role, maturing right before our eyes into an All-Star caliber player while continuing this level of play into the playoffs. All told, Cristian ended up with a misleading 6.146 overall rating from 41 appearances in 2016. Three of his four MOTM awards came during the second half of the season and he looked outstanding throughout the Schmetzer era in which he rated much higher.
I look for Roldan to continue to improve and become more confident going forward into the attack. A few times in 2016, we saw glimpses of his powerful ability to surge forward in possession, shrugging off defenders and slaloming into scoring positions. We saw his knack for getting into smart positions to score opportunistic goals from set pieces. I believe all of this will culminate in a tremendously effective 2017 for Roldan, in which he becomes a bit more of a two-way midfielder and offers some coverage into the central hole that may be left by Dempsey pushing forward. I look forward to seeing Cristian continue to improve, and I believe he will score run of play goals in the upcoming season via smart runs directly on goal from deep positions.
Best Case 2017:
A call-up to represent the United States at the Gold Cup as a solid DM or box-to-box midfielder.