The Roldan brothers, Cristian and Alex, grew up seriously competitive with each other in all sports. Now, they've been reunited with the Sounders, who took Seattle University midfielder Alex Roldan with their first-round pick in Friday's MLS SuperDraft.
On a hot day last summer, Alex Roldan was packing his bags at his parents’ California home preparing for a senior college soccer season in Seattle that would shape his professional destiny.
Peering out at a front driveway basketball hoop, he described a fierce sports relationship with his older brother, Cristian, a former high school teammate in their hometown of Pico Rivera and a fledgling Sounders star. Just one year in age apart, the duo had competed fiercely at a variety of sports one-on-one, including pickup games under the hoop.
“You wouldn’t believe the fights we had over sports,’’ Alex Roldan said, adding they’d sometimes come to blows. “It got pretty intense.’’
His mother, Ana, standing close by, agreed.
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“That’s what caused most of the fights,’’ she said, pointing towards the hoop. “They’d play and Cristian would never let Alex win, no matter what.’’
But now, after another standout season for the Seattle University Redhawks, midfielder Roldan has been reunited anew with his older brother after the Sounders on Friday selected him in the first round (22nd overall) of the MLS SuperDraft. Roldan, 21, who’d watched the draft from the living room of that Pico Rivera, Calif. childhood home with his parents and girlfriend, could not believe his luck.
“I’m super fortunate to be on the same team as my brother,’’ said Roldan, who last season had six goals and a team-high eight assists for the Pete Fewing-coached Redhawks, including the game-winning strike in a 2-1 win over San Jose St. in the Western Athletic Conference championship match. “Not many brothers in MLS get that luxury of having that, so I’m definitely blessed to be on the same team as him. I imagine it will be a different transition heading into the pros because I’ll have him to lean on.’’
The Sounders also made a second round selection Friday, taking Duke defender Markus Fjortoft – son of a former Norwegian national team fixture – with their 45th pick overall.
The Roldan brothers, sons of an immigrant father from Guatemala and mother from El Salvador, last teamed together five years ago at El Rancho High School in their town of 63,000 just east of Los Angeles. That 2012-13 season, the El Rancho Dons won their first Southern California Regional Championship – the de facto state title – and saw Cristian Roldan named the Gatorade National Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Their parents’ home is filled with trophies, plaques and championship rings from all three sons – their oldest, Cesar Jr., now a Colorado Rapids trainer, Cristian and Alex. For Alex Roldan, their backyard and front driveway battles – especially with Cristian — shaped him into the player he became.
“It was definitely a competitive environment,” he said. “We grew up playing a ton of sports on the same team and against each other. So, we’ve always had a competitive nature between us and we’re both the same kind of people who hate to lose. So, we’d do whatever it takes to beat the brother. But there were definitely some heated arguments but we got past those as time went along.”
He’d even gotten to train with Cristian and the Sounders last summer, showing the coaching staff and general manager Garth Lagerwey what he could do. The Sounders had let the Roldans know they might take Alex if he was still around by Friday’s 22nd pick, but nothing was set in stone.
Training with the U.S. Men’s National Team in California, Cristian Roldan – fresh off his selection as Sounders Most Valuable Player last season — said Friday the brothers had waited anxiously to see whether Lagerwey would pick him.
“We really didn’t know how possible it could be with this draft class,’’ he said. “We all know that drafts are wild and anything can happen. We felt that Seattle was the team most interested. With myself and with Alex, they’ve done a good job of finding players that fly under the radar.’’
He agreed that the competition got heated between them at times as teenage athletes so close in age. But he feels his younger brother benefitted.
“It’s great for his growing as a person and as an athlete,’’ he said. “And vice-versa, it’s helped me a ton. It was the same with our older brother as well. We all did not want to lose. We just wanted to get better. And having that competitiveness in the household definitely helped.’’
Cristian describes Alex – who is two or three inches taller – as having an “attacking style’’ similar to his, with stellar hip movement that helps him dodge defenders easier than he can. He also feels Alex might be able to play multiple positions – as he currently does with the Sounders in the defensive and attacking midfield – and that making a good impression when training camp opens Monday in Tukwila is paramount.
The Sounders would love to have found a taller Roldan clone, but aren’t saying it out loud.
“I’m not about to compare him to his brother on Day 1 – that’s a pretty lofty standard,’’ Lagerwey said with a chuckle. “But he’s got a lot of the same stuff off the field. He’s got a good engine. He’s got a good mentality. He’s a guy that we knew really well because he’d trained with us…it just feels like a good move. It feels like a good fit.’’
For now, Alex Roldan knows this is his chance to make his own name. Even though it will entail being referred to as “Cristian Roldan’s younger brother’’ for the foreseeable future.
“Honestly, it’s something I love hearing because it’s a great comparison,’’ he said. “He has been successful his whole life. Credit to him for being up that path for me. I hope I can do the same things but I have some big shoes to fill.’’
And a big, brotherly hand to guide him there.