MLS Cup 2019: Why Cristian Roldan and his playoff role could be the difference for the Sounders vs. Toronto FC
The USMNT man has stepped up for Seattle
SEATTLE -- Heading into Sunday's MLS Cup against Toronto FC, Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan is all about being comfortable and ready. But when he's asked to do things differently, he embraces that challenge and looks forward to doing the job behind his high expectations. That's because he's done whatever has been needed all season long, and that adaptability has been crucial to the Sounders' success.
In the past, Roldan has been needed to contribute more in attack and move wider as a result, delivering goals and creativity. But for a portion of the regular season and for most of Seattle's run in the playoffs, the Sounders have asked him to play a role that is more critical to the team's defensive plans. It's worked. They recorded a shutout in the Western Conference Semifinals against Real Salt Lake and held top-seeded LAFC to just a goal in the Western Conference Final.
Roldan, 24-year-old United States men's national team midfielder, has once again played a critical role in the middle of the pitch to get MLS' most consistent team close to the summit. He was on the Seattle team in 2016 that won MLS Cup at Toronto, and helped the Sounders make it to the title game again one season later.
Ahead of Sunday's MLS Cup, Roldan knows what his role will be and fully understands what is on the line.
"I've been asked to stay a bit more defensive specifically in the playoffs so the game does not turn into an open game," Roldan told CBS Sports. "I do think we'll have to defend in a low block at times but not as much as our previous MLS Cups. We have always liked a slower tempo when defending and we hope we put ourselves in a good spot for the counter attack."
With Michael Bradley leading the Toronto midfield, Seattle is expected to sit in that low block and invite the pressure, leaving the counter attack open with Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris springing forward. Toronto's creativity with Alejandro Pozuelo is the biggest threat to Seattle in the match, and getting numerous guys behind the ball will be key.
"Michael Bradley has always been a player and person I have admired from afar," Roldan said. "After meeting him and playing alongside him, I have an even better admiration for him. He loves to switch the point of attack and get on the ball, he is effective when he does so and that's one way we can take him away from being successful. He covers a lot of ground and sometimes that can free up more space for other players to fill."
While filling that space and getting forward will be important to Seattle creating chances, what doesn't need to be filled is Roldan's meter of confidence. He's eager for the game, but his butterflies are reduced because he'll be playing at CenturyLink Field. Roldan, a California native, played at the University of Washington for two years before joining MLS, and he's fallen in love with Seattle while playing an integral role in growing the club.
"Playing at home gives us a massive advantage," Roldan said. "It just feels like the ball bounces your way and when you have 70,000-plus rooting for you, it certainly helps. When it is the 65th minute and you find yourself trying to catch your breath, the crowd urges you on to keep going. [That's why] we have been very successful at CenturyLink in the second half."
Roldan and his changing role have given the huge Seattle crowds a lot to cheer about. The player who can do it on both ends of the pitch expects to finish the 2019 season celebrating on his home turf.
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