As the CenturyLink Field home faithful went eerily numb, the Sounders needed a game-changing spark Tuesday in their MLS Western Conference finals match against Colorado.
The Rapids had scored an early goal — something that was neither pretty or expected. In any case, it put the Sounders in must-strike mode.
And midfielder Cristian Roldan delivered.
Roldan controlled a looping pass from Nicolas Lodeiro as he bolted up the left hash for 20 yards. He bounced it once with his knee as he approached the outskirts of the penalty box.
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In one big swoop, Roldan unleashed a right-footed screamer that goalkeeper Zac MacMath got his fingertip on as it clanked hard off the left goalpost.
The deflection came right to Jordan Morris, who punched it in for the equalizer in the Sounders’ eventual 2-1 victory.
“It was all Cristian,” Morris said. “He created it and made it happen.”
The 21-year-old Roldan knows his role in his second season with the Sounders is much different than what it was when he was the 2013 Gatorade national boys soccer player of the year at El Rancho High School in California, or during his two seasons at the University of Washington.
He is a defense-first midfielder, in the mold of veteran teammate Osvaldo Alonso.
Yet, as those two have teamed up again in coach Brian Schmetzer’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Alonso has encouraged his junior partner to look for his offense more. And Roldan’s runs have aided the team’s attack nicely in this postseason.
Last Tuesday was a punctuating example.
“I tell him, ‘Go forward, go forward,’ ” Alonso said. “Now he does it more often.”
Against the Rapids, he had a team-high 72 passes to teammates — with 86.1 percent accuracy.
“He is always a big part of our game plan,” Schmetzer said. “One of the things we were driving at him in training was to be a little cleaner, a little bit more deliberate in some of his passing — like playing it to (a teammate’s) right foot because I know there is a defender on your left shoulder.
“Some of those nuances of the game, he’s really worked on and gotten better at.”
Back in college, Roldan was an attacking midfielder. Anything associated with defense “I cheated on, to be honest.”
After being selected 16th overall by the Sounders in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, Roldan transitioned to a defensive midfielder role.
“For sure, it has taken some time,” Roldan said. “My mindset has totally changed. I have seen a change in my personality, that’s for sure, because before I wasn’t a fiery guy. I did not get into too many tackles. Now that is part of my game. I love it.”
Roldan said Alonso has had as big an influence on him as anybody since he joined the MLS.
“We don’t talk on the field — it is very natural,” Roldan said. “When he goes up, I stay. And when I go up, he stays. I think we are in sync with each other’s games. As a pair, we are good together, because we are able to play evenly.”
Roldan’s breakout second season only confirms he is a large part of the Sounders’ future.
“He’s another guy ... that has an incredible will to win.” Schmetzer said.