Playing as if someone someone was trying to set his feet afire, Cristian Roldan scored two goals in two minutes and nearly bagged two more as Seattle tore through the San Jose Earthquakes 3-0 Sunday night at the Clink. The Sounders improved to 8-7-6 and climbed above .500 for the first time since the conclusion of the 2015 regular season.
The goals gave Roldan three tallies in the past two matches, the first one a dramatic game-winner to cap off a 4-3 comeback win over D.C. United.
Head coach Brian Schmetzer sensed Roldan was inspired by his first USMNT call-up.
“You can tell he came back from national team (fired up),” Schmetzer said. “That energized him. He senses he can play at that level. We’ve always believed that he can play at that level. Now he’s finding that out for himself and that little bit of self-reflection and confidence helped him down here.
“He can do multiple things. We’ve almost hindered his notoriety because I’ve used him at right back. I used him in the 4-2-3-1 and he has to cover for Joevin (Jones) when he goes up the field. He sacrifices parts to his game for the good of the team.”
Roldan darted all over the pitch, zipping in from behind to steal the ball away from surprised Quakes (7-9-5, 26 points) players. Playing a central attacking midfield role in the wake of Nicolas Lodeiro’s one-game suspension after a red card against D.C., Roldan fit right in and began sending dangerous through balls to striker Will Bruin.
No attacks developed for Seattle (30 points) in the first half. Lacking four players who accounted for 13 of the team’s 29 goals—Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, (national team duty) Osvaldo Alonso (injury) and Lodeiro, it seemed goals would be elusive.
Roldan fixed that in the 54th minute, when new signee Kelvin Leerdam spun in a long throw-in from the right side and had the ball flicked on by Gustav Svensson. Roldan met the ball at the back post for an easy header goal to put the hosts on top.
One minute later, Roldan stole the ball off Earthquakes center back Victor Bernardez and went one-on-one with keeper David Bingham, beating him from a low angle to the far side of the net to record the fastest pair of goals in franchise history.
The Pico Rivera, CA., native and University of Washington star nearly finished the hat trick in the 59th minute, when he leapt to meet a cross from left back Nohou Tolo and sent the ball to the upper left 90, only to be denied by a finger-tip save from Bingham.
Leerdam provided the third goal in the 65th minute, tapping in a ball from a corner kick at the far post to finish with a goal and an assist in his first start for the club.
Roldan had one more chance on goal in the 79th minute, when he picked up a long through ball at the edge of the penalty area and outmuscled Florian Jungwirth to create space for a shot. Roldan beat Bingham on the ground, but had his shot rebound off the left post and away from net.
Roldan thinks the experience of international play has improved his field vision.
“For me specifically, the international level is a little bit faster,” Roldan said. “You have to think, you have to take a better first touch. Maybe in the first part of the season, I wasn’t able to play (attacking center midfield) because the play is so much faster. Now that it’s slowed down a little bit, I was able to step in there.”
Roldan and the Sounders have strung together three wins in a row for the first time since a four-game win streak helped propel them to the playoffs and MLS Cup from Sept. 17 t.
For a team that knows all about getting hot at the right time, the Sounders look as if they’ve lit a torch to guide them through the second half of the season.