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Cristian Roldan returns to Seattle with future USMNT caps in mind

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Because his hard work for the Sounders earned him his first call up, he doesn’t plan on changing a thing

United States v Martinique: Group B - 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Fresh off his first cap for the United States national team, Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan has returned to his club after swapping spots with Clint Dempsey ahead of the Gold Cup knockout round. While Roldan expressed dismay that he couldn’t participate further, he was endlessly positive about his first experience representing his country. “It was great, made a lot of new friends. A lot of good people were there. It was everything I expected and more. I’m very thankful for the opportunity and hopefully this will be the first of many.”

Despite the presence of some heavy hitters with lots of caps under their belt, Roldan’s first national team camp was full of players with just a handful of caps, putting many of them in the same boat. “They all had the same goal, and that was to make a good impression on Bruce and the national team staff.” Roldan said the dynamic wasn’t one of tension or spite, but one of camaraderie. “We were able to become good friends and do the same thing we were supposed to do.”

US head coach Bruce Arena didn’t have too much to say to Roldan prior to his first start. Roldan said it was the same for many of the younger guys playing in some of their first competitive matches. “He said to just play our game, don’t do anything out of the ordinary.” Arena had even faced many of the players, including Roldan, as head coach of the LA Galaxy in previous seasons. “He wanted us to remain ourselves and play the way we play for our clubs.”

It’s not super easy to gauge how international soccer goes against a team like Martinique, but Roldan acknowledged that the level was similar to what he’s used to in MLS. “I think the technical ability was still there. Obviously it’s a little faster. You have to have a good first touch.” Having a good first touch was key for Roldan, because it can open up a wealth of space on the pitch against a team like Martinique. “Being really focused in and keyed in on that first touch, because that can give you more time on the ball. Much more time than you’d think.”

That’s not to say that Roldan has a negative view of his first international opponents, and he praised his club teammate Jordy Delem for his outstanding play at center back last week. “I thought he played extremely well. He made it difficult for our forwards. He’s a little bit undersized for a center back, but he was winning battles and aerial duels. Nothing but positive things to say about my experience with Jordy on the field.”

But because of circumstances beyond his control, Roldan had to cut short his first stint with the US. There were plenty of positives to be gleaned from his time with the team, and Roldan is hopeful for the future. “Obviously I want to be a bigger part of the national team. Anytime you go into camp like that, you’re hoping for more. That was unfortunately the way I felt after leaving camp, but I also understood where I’m at.” He said he didn’t have much of a conversation with Arena upon leaving US camp, just that they would be in touch going forward. “It’s about focusing on the Sounders now and trying to play as well as I can, so Bruce gives me another call.”

This speaks to Roldan’s humility, which has been obvious since the moment the Sounders picked him in the 2015 SuperDraft. It’s taken two years for him to get into the national team picture, and his only plan going forward is to keep doing exactly what got him there. “My mentality’s the same, to be honest. I think the team is always first, and the rest will come. Individual accolades and all this stuff comes with a good team effort. First and foremost is getting the team right, doing whatever I can for the team, and hopefully another call-up will be soon.”