Sounders midfielder Alex Roldan is taking a full course load at Seattle University this quarter as he attempts to complete a business management degree while also breaking into Major League Soccer for the first time.
Sounders midfielder Alex Roldan knows his work is just getting started once practice is over.
For Roldan, in his rookie season with the team, the end of training at the Starfire sports facility in Tukwila means heading back to his apartment and hitting the books. He’s taking a full college course load this spring, hoping to secure his business management degree from Seattle University.
“Every kid’s dream is to play soccer, but getting the degree is also important,’’ Roldan said. “It’s not that challenging when you’ve had a couple of years in already. I know the ins and outs to making sure I’m doing well in school.’’
Roldan, 21, is taking three final classes this quarter through independent computer study at home and hopes to graduate by month’s end. He’s got a handful of assignments left; one of them a paper on leadership and management in which he got to choose the topic.
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He chose to focus on sports and coaching: contrasting the styles of various coaches he’s played for.
“I’m comparing their style to what you’d find in a corporate job from somebody in a leadership type of position,’’ he said. “It’s definitely interesting because I get a little it of both worlds where I’m a professional athlete but I also get to learn about other things.’’
Although it’s rare, a number of pro athletes have finished their college degrees while still competing – prime among them former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, retired NFL safety Troy Polamalu and MLB pitcher Marcus Stroman. But those players all took time off from school and got adjusted to pro sports before returning to class.
Roldan’s case is rarer still in that he’s making the pro sports leap on-the-fly without breaking stride in his schooling. And he’s done it while playing far more than anybody expected for an injury-depleted Sounders team that will again try to jumpstart its 2-7-2 season Saturday night at home against D.C. United.
Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro arrived back from World Cup training in Uruguay on Thursday and should be available to play. But recent injuries to midfielders Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Handwalla Bwana means Roldan is never far down the depth chart. He’s already logged 637 regular season minutes, which is more than Lodeiro, Wolff Eikrem and forward Clint Dempsey and exceeds all attacking midfielders in playing time aside from his dual-role older brother Cristian.
The Roldan brothers teamed up for a goal at Sporting Kansas City in April, with Alex assisting on a second half Cristian strike. But Alex Roldan has been held pointless since on a team that’s been shut out eight times in 11 matches.
The team’s struggles have put extra pressure on young players being asked to fill in. While the playing time is a bonus, it’s also brought undue fan scrutiny on inexperienced youngsters like Roldan that would ordinarily be honing pro skills mostly in the second division United Soccer League if not for all the injuries.
Roldan understands he must be zeroed-in on his soccer and can’t afford to let a pending degree distract him from on-field development. He seemed almost nervous discussing his schoolwork, insisting several times that soccer is his main focus despite understanding the importance of a degree.
“You never know when your career will end,’’ Roldan said. “You never know when you’ll need a backup plan. But right now, the soccer is going very well so that’s where my focus is at.’’
In that regard, taking the courses online has been a bonus since it eliminates the time-consuming need to physically attend class. When he got his degree from Louisiana State University years ago, NBA star O’Neal said it would have been impossible to get it done any way other than remotely.
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Stroman made headlines a few years back when he did attend classes at Duke University to complete a sociology degree. But Stroman was rehabilitating an injury at the time and not actually playing in games.
For Roldan and others, the remote schooling is the only practical way to go.
“I’ll just go home after practice, relax, sit on the computer and do a little bit of research,’’ Roldan said. “I’m always learning some new things.’’
He said his parents, Cesar and Ana, who immigrated from Guatemala and El Salvador, respectively, prioritized the brothers getting an education above all else. Their parents, lacking in formal education, both relied on odd jobs in the Los Angeles area for years to help their family make ends meet.
And they’ll be there to see Roldan get his diploma – at an actual ceremony.
“That part won’t be online,’’ he laughed.