TUKWILA — The air of an international returned to Sounders FC training on Wednesday.
Alex Roldan rejoined the club at Starfire Sports after helping El Salvador advance to the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals. The stint was Roldan’s first as an international call-up, qualifying because of his mother’s heritage and — unlike his brother, Cristian — having never suited up for the U.S. men’s national team. The latter recorded a game-winning assist to advance the USMNT to a semifinal matchup against Qatar on Thursday.
“It’s not just me playing for an international team,” said Alex, who hasn’t visited his extended family in El Salvador in a decade. “This is her way of experiencing it as well — it’s through me. It was a memory I won’t forget for the rest of my life, for sure.”
The brothers nearly faced each other in the semifinals. Alex started in a 3-2 loss to Qatar, with El Salvador scoring two second-half goals in an attempt to come back.
The tournament was a breakthrough for the team. Coach Hugo Perez, a former USMNT star whose parents emigrated from El Salvador, took over the program in April and gathered as many quality dual-citizenship players as possible to round out a team for a nation that last experienced greatness on the global soccer stage in the 1980s.
El Salvador will play the USMNT in World Cup qualifiers beginning in September.
“That (Qatar) game was a good indication of what we’re capable of,” Alex said. “The group is a very talented group. We’re still working on some of those small things that we need to correct in order to be a solid team contending for (World Cup) qualifiers.”
Alex started two of his four Gold Cup appearances, logging 226 minutes. He substituted into his debut match and scored a goal to help “La Selecta” defeat Guatemala 2-0. Cristian hasn’t scored for the USMNT in 23 appearances.
“Every kid dreams of that, coming in and scoring in your first game,” said Alex, who celebrated his 25th birthday Wednesday. “It being an international level, I think, (made it) so much more important as well. And I finally got one up on Cristian. That’s always a plus.”
Alex scored his first MLS goal in a 1-1 draw against Colorado on July 4. But despite earning the starting right wingback position to open the season, he isn’t a given to start Saturday against San Jose at Lumen Field, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said Wednesday.
“That would ruin his career,” Schmetzer said. “He came into camp without a contract. He wanted to prove something to whomever … that he could play at this level. He has accomplished that. If we let the foot off the gas now, that’s not good coaching. We’ve got to keep pushing him.”
Sounders veterans Nico Lodeiro (knee), Stefan Frei (blood clot), Nouhou (adductor) and Will Bruin (knee) have been on the training field the past week for the first time, showing progress in their return from injury.
No definitive timeline for any of the players’ return has been set. Bruin is likely to return the soonest.
The Sounders (9-2-5) have managed to stay atop the Western Conference despite at one point missing 10 players and needing to start five teenagers. Schmetzer would still like to have a high-level signing if it’s the right fit.
The league’s secondary transfer window closes Aug. 5.
“The beauty that we have is Nico looked very good today,” Schmetzer said. “Nouhou is back on the field again. There are some signs that it might not be fall before we get some of these guys back. Stef is on a strict protocol because of the blood thinners. But he was out here working with (goalkeeper coach) Tommy (Dutra), and he looks good. So we’ll get guys back.”