Too often Alex Roldan was part of what you didn’t see.
A solid player in training who couldn’t break through as a serious contender to start during the Sounders’ 2019 championship season. So, days after reveling in the win with fans during a victory parade through downtown Seattle last November, Roldan was seated in a room with Garth Lagerwey, the club’s general manager and president of soccer, and coach Brian Schmetzer for a difficult conversation. He was told the Sounders weren’t picking up the option on his contract.
“It was a tough time. That’s never something that you want to hear,” said Roldan, who was originally signed in 2018.
Last year’s playoff run was a hint at how Roldan, 24, could work his way back onto the roster. The seasoned midfielder was training at right back to add depth as Major League Soccer changed its postseason format to single elimination. Roldan, a former four-year starter at Seattle University, continued to work on the transition during the offseason.
The Sounders invited Roldan back as a trialist in January and that was all it took. Roldan worked his way to a permanent contract in February and through an unpredictable MLS season amid the coronavirus pandemic, Roldan has been reliable as a backup to Kelvin Leerdam at right fullback.
“Switching positions gave me the opportunity to kind of get a second look at what I have to offer as a player,” Roldan said. “This year, I feel that I’ve carried that out and expanded on that. … Changing positions now, I don’t think that’s easy for most players, especially those who’ve played the same position all of their life. I’ve always bounced around in the midfield. Having the ability to adapt and show I can learn the position quickly (helped).”
In the truncated season, Roldan has started three of his 18 appearances, totaling 571 minutes and one assist. It surpasses his five starts in nine appearances last season, logging 442 minutes.
One of the biggest highlights is Roldan’s save at the goal line against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Nov. 4. Sounders keeper Stefan Frei was out of position on a volley shot attempt. Roldan used a header to keep the ball out of the net in the 15th minute. The match ended in a 1-1 draw.
“He earned the spot,” Schmetzer said of Roldan starting. “He’s worked hard in training.”
Leerdam and Sounders assistant coach Djimi Traore have helped Roldan make the transition. He’s also received guidance from his older brother, Sounders midfielder Cristian.
The Roldans made MLS history in September when they were on the field at the same time as Portland Timbers brothers Yimmi and Diego Chara. Portland won 1-0 at Providence Park.
The Sounders (11-5-6) are turning their focus to the playoffs, which means Alex will likely return to more of a secondary role. Seattle, the No. 2 seed, face seventh-seeded Los Angeles FC (9-8-5) on Nov. 24 at CenturyLink Field.
Alex’s skill set this season is part of why the Sounders’ roster is being debated as the best of a league-record 12 straight playoff runs.
Seattle has talented depth at left back with players such as Nouhou, Joevin Jones and Brad Smith. Up top, forward Will Bruin pushes for minutes. And defensively, the Sounders have Jordy Delem as a reliable player, in addition to proven starters.
“It goes to show how good our team is,” Alex said. “We’re one of the best teams in the league for a reason — because the front-office does such a good job of bringing in good players to get results. At the end of the day, those are the ones that help us win a championship as well as the other players that are right behind them ready to make their opportunity count.”
The unprecedented season has added to the importance of flexible players like Alex. MLS has had three starts to its season when you add the summer tournament in Florida and return to the regular-season after shutting down in March to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The Roldans live together in Seattle, playing video games to help pass downtime where the team is instructed to not be around friends and extended family to help prevent getting infected. An unnamed coach did test positive for the virus Thursday.
Alex is also using time to get his master’s degree in data analytics through online courses. But he doesn’t plan to use the degree any time soon.
“It is tough to break into a tough team like Seattle,” Cristian said. “I give Alex a lot of credit. He worked his butt off in training and may have gotten frustrated at times, but it’s all part of the process. I’m really proud of him. I’m not saying that just because he’s my brother, but because he deserves it. As a teammate, I see the work that he does. The kid has a lot of quality.”