Roldan ready to fight for spot in crowded USMNT midfield

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Frederick Breedon
With a new deal signed in Seattle, and a new coach to impress with the national team, the midfielder is poised for a big 2019 for club and country

The competition for places in the U.S. national team central midfield is going to be fierce in the coming months and years, with more quality options existing in that area of the field than any other in the USMNT pool.

Of all the names being discussed in that competition, one that isn't mentioned nearly as much as it should be is Cristian Roldan. The Seattle Sounders midfielder isn't generating the same level of excitement among fans like young European-based options Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, and is more often relegated to the stacked list of MLS-based options like Michael Bradley, Will Trapp, Kellyn Acosta and Marky Delgado, but Roldan heads into 2019 as a strong candidate for a big year for club and country.

Sources tell Goal that Roldan has impressed in the January camp, looking sharp in the system being installed by new USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter. Roldan's strengths as a player make him well-suited to meet the demands placed by Berhalter's style of play, which is why he is a good bet to start in Berhalter's national team coaching debut on Sunday against Panama.

Roldan is wary about speaking too positively about how quickly he has taken to Berhalter's system, but he readily admits enjoying the adaptation, while also fully realizing just how tough the competition for places in central midfield will be.

"I’m eager, because if you practice around good players in this system you’re going to get better," Roldan told Goal. "You want to be able to compete. I’m willing to put everything on the line. I’m happy to take on all the talent that comes this way. There’s a lot of young guys that are very good. It’ll be interesting to see when hopefully all of us are in camp together how we gel together."

Roldan has blossomed into a well-rounded midfielder after four seasons in Seattle, helping the Sounders win an MLS Cup in 2017 and amassing 122 career starts by the age of 23. He has shown himself to be versatile enough to play centrally, or on the wing, and even as a right back last season. It is that willingness to do whatever his team needs, and that ability to do the dirty work to help his teammates shine that he believes can help make him an important player for the USMNT.

"In Seattle I’m certainly not the star," Roldan said. "I’m able to play my role, so why can’t that role be here with the U.S. national team? It's a similar situation where a lot of guys have bigger names than me, but at the same time why can’t I compete for a starting spot? I have to be sharp, and I’m ready for that."

Roldan has had a busy offseason, completing the signing of a new five-year contract that will make him one of the team's highest-paid players. Before the new deal, Roldan would have gone into the upcoming season in the final year of his contract, but he chose to secure his future with the Sounders rather than playing out his deal and testing the waters in Europe.

"I felt like Seattle had a really good plan for me going forward, and they had a really good role for me going forward in the next three, four, five years," Roldan said. "There's still a higher level for me to achieve here. I can get better in Seattle and play more than if I'm in Europe and the coach doesn't know you're coming, and it's obviously more of a risk if you're going to try and establish yourself over there. It could be more rewarding, but in the end I also felt with coach Berhalter stepping in I think he has respect for MLS and MLS players and I felt I would give myself a chance to get selected for the national team playing for Seattle.

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"Seattle brought me into this league and made me a better player each and every year," Roldan said. "In terms of Europe, you just never know. It happens to so many players where an option opens up, so it's certainly possible. Things change fast in the soccer world. You have to prepare for everything, but I'm happy in Seattle."

Roldan will be expected to take on a much larger leadership role with the Sounders after the departure of Osvaldo Alonso, a role he says he is ready for. Though he is just 23, Roldan has the mentality of a veteran after four full seasons as a starter. That experience has helped him develop a poise that makes him capable of taking on any challenge that comes his way, and it is why Roldan believes he is ready to take on the challenge of becoming a starter for Berhalter's USMNT.

"If I continue to play well, Gregg has a keen eye for talent, for guys that will fit into this system, and this mold that he has," Roldan told Goal. "I have a slightly different role in Seattle in terms of where I play, but in the end if you fit this mold, fit this system, you’re going to be rewarded. I feel like at this point I have a chance, but you have to show it in the games."

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