For Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, playing against the superstars of his youth — like Orlando City’s Kaka — is an exercise in balancing respect and the desire to win. He may have long been a fan of Kaka, one of the most dynamic and creative midfielders of the last 20 years, but when Roldan lines up against him, it’s all business. “I can’t say anything but good things about Kaka and all these great players in MLS, but for us as players playing against them, you have to show some type of respect but you have to be fearless in the way you play against them and head into tackles no matter who you’re playing against.”
And it’s not as if Kaka is some rookie getting ready to face his first MLS superstar; since Roldan was drafted by Seattle in 2015, he’s become one of the most consistent and versatile midfielders in the league. He’s faced players like Steven Gerrard, Landon Donovan, David Villa, and more, and he’s shown himself to be fully capable of taking on the challenge mentally and physically. “I think once I got drafted, it wasn’t that I lost respect for these players, I just had to be fearless against them.”
Roldan is also one of the most professional players you’ll ever meet, and he knows what is expected of him and his club now that the season is reaching its halfway point. Coming off a loss to NYCFC at the weekend and playing at home against Orlando City on Wednesday, the Sounders need to find their form soon in order to make a push for the playoff spots. Roldan said the team knows what they need to do, but they’re not panicking just yet. “Obviously we pay attention to the scoreboard and see how other teams are doing, but I think that it’s still in our hands and in our favor. We can still turn this thing around.” He did admit, though, that seeing other teams in the West draw each other is always reassuring.
Going into Wednesday match, Roldan also assured that his teammates are more than up for the challenge. Head coach Brian Schmetzer said earlier this week that Orlando have “nothing to lose” after losing talismanic scorer Cyle Larin, meaning that even if the Sounders are favored to win at home, Orlando may throw caution to the wind in hopes of getting a result. Roldan said the Sounders are committed to winning, and that they know exactly what’s needed and expected of them. “We’re at that point where we have to take advantage of every single home game and I think you’ll see a fully committed team from our side.”
He pointed out the creative midfield threat of not only Kaka, but also the quickness of winger Carlos Rivas. “[Rivas] is extremely fast and on the counter he’s extremely good,” Roldan said. “He has a lot of shots this year, has a handful of goals, and he plays a part in a lot of Orlando’s attacks.” Roldan noted that Giles Barnes will likely shoulder the burden at forward, but expects the biggest goal threats to be Kaka and Rivas, who incidentally are tied for most Orlando goals this season (3) after Larin.
Regardless, Roldan is sure that the Sounders are prepared for this match, and whether or not Orlando is able to find some good form despite being without a key players, the Sounders know what they have to do. “This is another game where maybe we’ll play a short-handed Orlando, we don’t know,” Roldan noted. “But we have to take advantage of any opportunity we get.”