Our CR7 is personally undefeated in 2021. I'm not kidding. Across 7 months, for both club and country, as the Brit's like to say, "he has been talisman."
Cristian Roldan has not lost domestically or internationally in the 19 games where he has seen minutes on the field in 2021. The one US game he was rostered but had to ride it out on the bench, the US easily handled Haiti. 20 games unbeaten.
This group of games includes two versus Galaxy, two versus LAFC (both wins), appearances against Canada and current Asian champion Qatar, and on top of that, a US-Mexico cup final win!
Thumbing Through the Annals
Has any American player ever had a similar lengthy personal undefeated streak stretching across all competitions in a calendar year? Including international games and not just US Open Cup games?
A search for the answer to this admittedly esoteric stats question is a bit of a fun journey. I am not plugged directly into Opta or Statsbomb, and US Open Cup stats info isn't easy to track down, making it tough for me to provide a definitive answer below. A little research on recent history with what is available though does I think put into some context how impressive this streak is.
The longest MLS undefeated streak across a single regular season is 19 games by FC Dallas in 2010. No American on the 2010 Dallas team had a large enough international profile to even have the opportunity to capitalize on that streak (Dax McCarty didn't cap for US national team until 2017). Dallas did not participate in the 2010 US Open Cup, so though a good starting place, nobody here is in the running for a multi-comp record.
Columbus Crew FC closed 2004 with 18 unbeaten in the MLS regular season. This was Chad Marshall's first season in MLS (as a 19 year old) where the Crew won Supporters Shield but then lost their first home/away 2 leg match up to crash out early in the Cup playoffs. Chad Marshall didn't get his first national team cap until 2006. Neither Frankie Hejduk or Kyle Martino were capped in 2004. Robin Fraser's solitary cap was prior in 2002. Since we are concerned with a multiple competition streak here, counting a US Open Cup Loss in late July, this 18 game streak drops to 15 undefeated in all competitions to end the year. Too bad Chad, that would have been a nice surprise.
The 2016 Colorado Rapids also had a run of 15 lossless. Curiously 10 of those 15 were prior to Tim Howard's arrival that season from Everton. News of his coming must have truly given them a lift. I recall that being a weird year for Colorado.
The 2013 Timbers (Porter) and the 2018 Timbers (Savarese) both had runs of 15 undefeated in a single MLS season. The 2013 Timbers are of most interest here since they had run of three wins in the US Open Cup during their undefeated league run, so that jumps their undefeated number to 18 across all comps. Darlington Nagbe played every single game for Portland in 2013 and was rostered for their 3 Open Cup games during this undefeated period, so it looks like across two comps he might be the current personal male record holder at 18 games for March - July of that year. Since these are only domestic competitions contributing to this number it has a bit of an asterisk attached for this conversation. Nagbe didn't see national team minutes until 2015. Curiously Nagbe did have a 10 game unbeaten streak for the first 7 months of 2017 with the US National Team, however the Timbers were only a very good 9-8-5 in that same period. A tip of the hat is due here as Nagbe was a true ironman during this period, playing 32 games in 7 months, twelve more games than the Roldan streak we're evaluating here for a comparable timespan.
Not surprisingly the most interesting comparables to this case come from the women's game and members of the recently very-winning USWNT. The North Carolina Courage were appointment viewing in 2018, an impressive attacking unit dominating all-comers, suffering only a single loss all year. As a result Crystal Dunn and Abby Dahlkemper had a hell of a 2018 with their club and USWNT, each with streaks worthy of mention on this list in that calendar year. With only one league loss for North Carolina out of 24 games, the National Team also went 8/8 winning both SheBelieves and Confederations Cups. For Dunn this meant a personal 18 game undefeated streak to start 2018, across three competitions, including 3 international games and her final four games of the WSL in England with Chelsea (she did miss one WSL game in February for Chelsea where they won so that isn't being counted here).
In the one league loss to split NC's season Dahlkemper did not play any minutes. After that hiccup Dahlkemper and Dunn went on a 18 game unbeaten streak to close out the year, including the NWSL playoffs and the remaining 5 international games. Of the three 18's under consideration here, Dunn's first 18 stretches across 3 comps so is perhaps the more impressive showing, and more closely matches Roldan's current effort since it started at the beginning of the year. However, the coaches among us might argue that closing a year so strongly by winning the playoffs, and then going on to win an international cup, that is what you're actually working for as a professional athlete. (Notably Jessica McDonald was also on that 2018 NC team, but didn't start making national team appearances until 2019 when she had an impressive 10 caps.)
While the above admittedly caveat-filled surface evaluation is not exhaustive or in any way definitive, it does put this present feat into some perspective and shows not too many similar obvious examples from an American. Christian Roldan's 20 game streak so far in 2021 includes half a dozen international ties plus silverware, and so has no asterisk attached. Given what Sounders fan's know his value is to his club, Roldan's name rising to the top amongst the likes of Dunn and Nagbe, who inhabit comparable talismanic roles on their club teams, feels very appropriate.
(Note: I am aware of Zack Steffen's 28 game unbeaten streak with Manchester City during the 2020-2021 season between the Premier League, UEFA Champions League, FA Cup, and EFL Cup. Zack only featured in 8 of the games in question, only 1 game in Champions league and only 1 game in the Premier League. He did start two friendlies for the national team where they won, but this was immediately after the streak, but not during. So while an American, and rostered for these games during this streak, in my mind this stretch doesn't properly compare here. Playing less than 1/3 of the possible minutes during this period, his contribution was limited, whereas the above discussed players are key players for their teams day in and day out.)
Keeping it Going
Can Cristian continue this unique unbeaten streak into a third competition when the Sounders face Liga MX side Tigres this Tuesday in the Leagues Cup? Extending this record into inter-league play would be a fun new twist and perhaps set a new bar for this kind of personal record.
Indications are positive that it is not too much of a reach:
- Though Tigres did finish in 5th at end of last season, they did not close in strong form, only winning 3 of their last 12, and scoring 0 goals in 6 of those 12 games.
- Miguel Herrera's men are only three games in to their new season, so far going 1-1-1
- I just watched the Saturday's game, where a red card was issued in the 35th minute after Tigres were already down a goal. They chased the game and did eventually score near the end to earn a draw, but their first half was out of sorts.
- On just three days rest the Mexican side is going to be tired, and perhaps rotated away from their first choice squad as a result.
Usually the Sounders are the ones trying to piece together a performance early in the season against a CONCACAF team already in mid-season form, and now the script is flipped.
We're now past the halfway point in this MLS season, and Christian appears to have an opportunity to break new ground and set a new bar for an American.
Give this man his flowers! (I'm looking at you GGG.)