WHIPPANY, N.J. — Cristian Roldan entered United States men’s national team camp on one of the biggest highs of any player in the 25-man squad.
The 23-year-old Seattle Sounders midfielder gained a wealth of confidence from his team’s eight-game unbeaten run, which boosted its playoff stock immensely.
As he tries to navigate through the crowded USMNT midfield depth chart, Roldan is banking on his confidence and the versatility he brings from his performance with the Sounders.
“It’s been great winning games and feeling like you’re on top of the world,” Roldan said before Wednesday’s training session. “Right now, I see myself playing right mid for Seattle Sounders and a little bit differently for the men’s national team. It builds, for me, the confidence because I’m able to play two different positions and they see that as well. It’s a good feeling for sure.”
The positional flexibility might be exactly what helps Roldan stick out more as U.S. interim manager Dave Sarachan picks his starting XI for Friday’s match against Brazil at MetLife Stadium.
The 2016 MLS Cup champion has three appearances for the U.S., and with a bevy of central midfielders in the current squad, Roldan could prove to be a vital piece on the midfield flanks.
Sarachan noted Wednesday the USMNT hasn’t committed to a system for Friday’s game, and two different looks have been tested out.
“We’re not sure (about the lineup) yet,” Sarachan said. “Without giving away too much, we’ve been working and talking about two different systems. We’re going to play the way we feel we need to play at home and that’s being aggressive.”
Roldan is competing with Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Wil Trapp and Kellyn Acosta for a starting spot in midfield, and while the jockeying for starting positions is fierce on the field, there’s a good relationship between the young core.
“These guys are ready to compete,” Roldan said. “You see it in training. These guys are willing to get into a tackle, which is not a big deal, guys are here for a reason and that’s to compete for a spot. Everything is friendly and everybody gets along off the field, but on the field we’re as much teammates as we are competitors so it’s great to see and hopefully it continues that way.”
As is the case with everyone on the current roster, Roldan is hungry for the opportunity to prove to Sarachan he’s capable of rising to the challenge Brazil and Mexico present.
“I think if you’re playing well and playing consistently, you always have a chance with the national team, especially right now,” Roldan said. “You see a lot of younger faces and guys are getting their chances and it’s about making the most of it.”
While Roldan and most of the players in camp have little experience on the international stage, DeAndre Yedlin has 52 caps coming into Friday. Since the right back’s move to England, Roldan, who spent time around the Sounders when Yedlin was with the club, notices the differences in his U.S. teammate’s play.
“DeAndre has gotten much better,” Roldan said. “I think he was very raw going into England and now he’s much better tactically and understands the game so much more. He’s a competitor, and you see it on the training field. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to win just a small-sided game, and that’s what leaders are for and what leaders do. And credit to DeAndre, he stepped up to the role. He’s only 25. He has the most caps here, but he’s willing to help the team anyway he can.”
Regardless of how much playing time Roldan receives in the coming days, he’s going to take away as much as he can from his fellow midfielders to help Seattle continue its push into the postseason.
“I think midfield is very talented,” Roldan said. “You talk about the young, energetic midfield, and it’s going to be hard to compete against, but I’m ready for it. I’m also going to look to these guys to gain experience, to learn from their game, because they’re obviously talented and it’s a time for me to observe as well and take some of their attributes into mine.”