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Seattle Sounders vs. 2017: End-of-season player ratings, #2

Cristian Roldan is consistent, tireless and versatile, and he’s still getting better.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

#2 Cristian Roldan – 6.87 | Community – 6.94

This grade is likely a surprise to those of you still following these, but Roldan will have to wait another year to be No. 1 in my ratings. Cristian Roldan is still somehow criminally underrated. He may be the most valuable player in the league based on age, salary, upside, etc. He’s had amazing improvement—here are his cumulative ratings as a Seattle Sounder:

2015 - Average 5.6 (20th on the team)

2016 - Average 6.15 (11th)

2017 - Average 6.87 (2nd)

This is astronomical growth. He has passed Alonso as the must-start defensive midfielder on the Sounders roster. If it weren’t for sample size, he’d likely be No. 1 on the 2017 ratings list. Cristian had a massive eight MOTM awards this last season, most on the team. He led the team in appearances (38), only missing one for a USMNT call up. He is resilient, effective, and a darn nice kid to boot. He showed toughness, playing through knocks and even broken bones. He dominated, whether he was paired with Goose, Ozzie, or Delem, on offense or defense. Even with a clunker in the final, he almost reached his regular-season grade in the playoffs, showing veteran poise in the postseason. He can play D-mid. He can play right back. He can be the 10 in the center. He can be a winger. He’s a damn good player and he’s ours.

One huge improvement from 2016 to 2017 was Roldan’s consistency. He started to play very well late in 2016 under new coach Brian Schmetzer. Over his last 14 appearances in 2016 he earned a 6.9 average, and he didn’t only continue this into 2017 but kept it up the entire year. This consistency was tremendous, rating below MLS average only a handful of times, while above average a massive 25 times.

A snippet of the bad:

A rusty Roldan started the season out with a 5 rating on March 4 against Houston:

“The defensive midfield downright stunk in the first half. As good as Roldan looked in preseason and practices, he may as well have met Alonso a week ago, they played so out of sync. This was horribly detrimental for the entire defensive shape, and their struggling combined with Houston’s formation and game plan put way too much pressure on the Seattle defense…Other than a decent switching pass, all my first half notes on Cristian were negative. Many of the errors were positional, with Alonso and Roldan both square and high, allowing a single pass to split open the center of the Sounders and any attack to flow directly down the middle of the field.”

Seattle looked all out-of-sorts in the opening half of the game, and it took some halftime adjustments to get Roldan back on track. Once he got some coaching at the break, he was an entirely different player, one who was incredibly effective and helped Seattle nearly come back to steal points on the road in the opener. As bad as the first half was, Roldan still ended with a 91 percent passing completion rate and two key passes, which is outstanding.

Cristian only had one other below-average grade all year, in a loss to Philadelphia on October 1:

“Playing with a broken arm, Roldan really struggled in the first half, unable to connect with teammates, lacking the speed, balance, and mobility he normally employs to be an effective multifaceted player. His 70 percent passing is a clear indication just how affected he was by the arm injury, as was his very low (43-same as Frei!) number of touches. Cristian took quite a while to adjust, and there were definite plays where he was not the player we are used to seeing.”

Roldan played this game on the road with a broken arm, in central midfield, with Delem behind him and Jones to his left. This is a big ask for someone healthy, and Cristian just didn’t look comfortable. My notes were peppered with comments about the balance from the broken arm throwing off Roldan’s play, but that game also illustrated how much he depends on endurance and strength.

A snippet of the good:

Seattle welcomed the New York Red Bulls to CenturyLink Field on March 19 (my birthday!) and Roldan was a monster at multiple positions:

“Roldan destroyed my notebook, making play after play and consistently involving himself in every positive thing Seattle did. His 75 percent passing completion rate included a ton of dangerous distribution and added two key passes, three aerials won, three successful dribbles, five clearances, three interceptions and a whopping SEVEN tackles while touching the ball the second-most times on the team. He did it all within one of the most comprehensive two-way games we have seen from Roldan... After being asked to play right back (because why not?) Roldan responded instantly by turning aside a dangerous cross over the top. Showing ZERO signs of fatigue, it was Cristian who reeled in Kljestan in the 88th, stealing his cookies and leaving the Red Bulls player barking at shadows. A minute later Cristian was shutting down BWP 1v1 and then finishing off the game with a beautiful pass over the top to spring Bruin in for a shot.”

This was the third game of the season and Roldan hadn’t looked too sharp prior, but this 9 rating and MOTM performance started a run of 11 matches in which Cristian earned an average above 7 (7.273). He was a revelation at right back, being strong enough to body players but quick enough to stick with wingers. His endurance was wonderful, allowing Roldan to drive the team from either position by his defensive play and although moved back late, still had energy to tirelessly run up and down the width of the field.

In a July 23 game against San Jose at home, Cristian earned MOTM and another 9 in a mind-boggling show:

“Cristian simply took over the game and had the most incredible period of sustained excellence we have seen from him as a Sounder. Along the way he led the team with a massive 7 tackles, took 5 shots, added 3 key passes, could have had 3 assists to go with 3 goals, and still ended up with only a post denying him a hat trick. Roldan was pulling up from mid-court and swishing 3’s and the Earthquakes had no answer…This was a mind-blowing explosion of dominance from Roldan, who put his hands around the neck of the game and shook it. If this is a glimpse into the future of his play, we are in for an amazing legacy.”

The last 30 minutes of this game was the best I have ever seen him play. Starting in the middle of an attacking band of Jones/Roldan/Evans, Cristian was completely dominant. He was simply unstoppable, creating, defending, scoring, assisting, and wholly taking over the match. The versatility shown in these games is just amazing, and it’s important to understand that Roldan is a fantastic technician of the game, allowing him to adjust to whatever is asked of him from the coaching staff.

Roldan collected another MOTM on August 12th against a Sporting KC team that had previously demolished Seattle:

“He covers so much ground that it frees up others to float into dangerous areas. His versatility makes him effective dropping in behind Jones to defend, playing a wide position like he did after the first sub, or as the amazing attacking destroyer that closed out the game. When pushed wide Cristian played up the left wing in the 77th and found Jones. He followed this up in the 83rd with a direct dive on goal and nearly redirected a cross into the net. Moving Roldan to the tip in front of Alonso and Svensson was genius, and it allowed Roldan to dominate the last five minutes of the game. Somehow with the freshest legs on the field, Cristian held the ball perfectly in possession in the 88th, won the ball back a minute later in the middle and kept it, and then finished off the game by beating 4 players in the 92nd, cherry picking a 5th and getting off a shot. Amazing.

Cristian naturally gravitates towards weak points on defense and immediately supports wide attacks quickly and efficiently. On the offensive side, Roldan knows how (and more importantly when) to dive directly on goal from a deep-lying position. His endurance rivals Lodeiro, and this allows Cristian to cover immense amounts of field, transitioning smoothly from defensive to offensive roles.

There is a very good argument to be made that Roldan is the MVP of this team and while a few players may still be a bit “better”, the value he brings to the squad is immense. Only 22 years old, he is a best-11 player in the league for years to come. His work ethic is vast. His passion is evident. He keeps eclipsing any ceilings that people attempt to put on his growth. He is a fantastic player who had an amazing 2017 season.

Roldan starts every game on a team looking to win championships. He can play anywhere in the central and wide midfield positions as well as wide defense, but is best suited to a defensive midfield role; this maximizes his physical and technical skills, allowing this star player the greatest potential to affect the game.

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