TUKWILA, Wash. – For the past several years Cristian Roldan has started his soccer campaign with the USMNT at January Camp. This year his focus is on the Seattle Sounders, as January Camp mostly featured players for the Olympic squad. That gives Roldan the opportunity to be part of the leadership group from Day 1.
“It’s about setting the standards, creating a good culture and good environment to to thrive as a team,” he said after Tuesday's training session.
With a former team captain gone, plus the absences in defense, as well as the lack of veteran calls into the US camp, the culture of 2024 will be different – and shaped by those who are here.
For Cristian that means leaning into the competition. Everyone knows they have a preferred role, but also that they have to earn their time.
“We’re always welcoming competition, that was something that we needed last year, right?” he said. “When I went down, we couldn't really replace that right mid position.”
The team didn’t have an obvious backup at right back for much of 2023 either, which Roldan said left his brother to play a bit too much.
“You know, injuries are gonna happen. That’s inevitable,” he said. “And we have to be able to fill those positions and I think these young guys, got some talent. And then we just need to give them experience – you'll see their talent show.”
Now a seasoned veteran entering his 10th MLS season, Roldan connects with a few players about their roles and professionalism. That includes Husky draftee Kalani Kossa-Rienzi, of course, but mostly the young center mids.
“Being a center mid at heart – with Obed and Josh and Danny – those guys, I kind of gravitating towards them,” he said. “I tell them to be a little bit more discipline in a midfield and not running out of the midfield is going to be really important for them. I gravitate towards those center mid guys because I play more like a center mid anyway, but on the right."
Of all the young talent he named, only one mentioned is a center naturally.
It is someone who could help the attack.
“I think Paul [Rothrock] will be really important for us this year.”
The elevation of youth and competition for minutes across the board is much of what the Sounders are counting on to correct their issues from 2023. One of the people who will be setting that tone is the now healthy, and leading from the start Cristian Roldan