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Which Roldan brother will be Sounders’ starting right back?

Alex Roldan has been the starter for almost four years but the Sounders have been playing better of late with Cristian Roldan at right back.

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2 min read
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

SEATTLE — Perhaps the biggest question facing Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer this week is who to start at right back. Alex Roldan has been cleared from concussion protocol and had been the practically-written-in-ink starter since assuming that role toward the end of 2020. But Cristian Roldan has been filling in, quite ably, over the past three games in which the Sounders have gone 2-0-1.

“A big part of the conversation this week was about keeping Cristian vs. Alex coming back into his normal role and what message it sends to the team,” Schmetzer told reporters following Friday’s training session at Lumen Field. “Was Alex 100% ready to go back in after his concussions? Was it better to bring him in as a sub. That’s all stuff we’re discussing.”

Further complicating the decision is that Alex Roldan has not quite been up to his standard for much of this season. In 15 starts, he has just one goal and one assist despite playing a role in which he’s asked to serve almost as a third forward in possession.

Cristian Roldan has far less experience at right back, but he has effectively played five full games there this year (which includes the Minnesota United game when Alex suffered a concussion in the 1st minute). He hasn’t exactly put up huge numbers, either, but the team’s numbers are a bit better overall in those games in comparison to the much larger sample size when his brother has started.

From Schemtzer’s perspective, the brothers play the position relatively similarly. The biggest difference is that Cristian is more likely to tuck in and serve as another midfielder and tends to excel at getting to the endline and cutting crosses back into the penalty area, while Alex is more likely to play as a pure winger and is better at crossing.

This debate probably isn’t going away anytime soon, either. While it would be simple enough for Schmetzer to choose to put both players on the field in the short term, once Pedro de la Vega is fully integrated into the team there’s likely to be a bit more tension in that decision.

While it could make for some awkward family meals, Cristian insisted that the competition is good for the team.

“If we continue to do well, it’s going to create some interesting conversations,” Cristian said earlier this week. “That’s what you want in a team that’s competitive. You want guys fighting for positions. It’s healthy competition.”

Pedro de la Vega update

After getting through a full week of training, de la Vega will play some role against the Chicago Fire. Schmetzer was reluctant to give an exact figure for how many minutes he thinks de la Vega can play as it will mostly depend on how the game is playing out, but estimated that he’d likely get 15-20 minutes.

More broadly, de la Vega’s return will force the Sounders to reconsider how they’re setting up and the best way to accommodate their Young Designated Player.

“We’ll talk about things,” Schmetzer said. “We’ll talk about new formations, how do we get everyone in their best spots? It will be an ongoing conversation. De la vega was our big signing and we’re excited he’s going to be a participant but we still need to find the right place for him.”