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Cristian Roldan has earned his shot to make the U.S. men’s soccer World Cup team

The 27-year-old can pass, can shoot a bit, and can play plenty of defense. He can also play two positions, central midfield and right wing. Versatility counts a lot when fighting to make a World Cup.

Cristian Roldan (center) is working to make the United States' men's World Cup team.
Cristian Roldan (center) is working to make the United States' men's World Cup team.Read moreJonathan Tannenwald / Staff

AUSTIN, Texas — Cristian Roldan knows what the critics think.

He knows there’s a caucus of chirpers on social media who insist that anyone who makes the U.S. men’s soccer team from an MLS club is inferior to players who perform in other countries, especially Europe.

If the two MLS Cups he’s won with the Seattle Sounders and the two Gold Cups he’s won with the U.S. don’t matter to you, so be it. But if you watched what he did in the club’s Concacaf Champions League title run, you might just have paid some attention.

Roldan started every game of the Sounders’ eight knockout contests and played every minute of every game but one. He had a goal and seven assists in the tournament. And he was especially good against the big-time Mexican opponents Seattle beat on the way to becoming the first MLS team to win the title in its current format.

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In the quarterfinal home game against León, Roldan assisted on all the goals in a 3-0 rout. In the first game of the final series against Pumas UNAM, he drew (with an assist from the replay booth) the late penalty kick that earned the Sounders a 2-2 tie in Mexico City.

And in the title-clinching 3-0 rout at home, he created two chances, completed 23 of 33 passes, and won 9 of his 11 duels — 5 of 6 on the ground and 4 of 5 in the air.

If you watched that game, you saw that one of those completions launched a master class of a counterattacking goal to give Seattle a 2-0 lead with 10 minutes to go.

OK, now let’s cool the hype a bit. Roldan also knows he isn’t going to displace any of the superstar starters in the U.S. lineup. But when the time comes for U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter to pick his final players for the World Cup team, you can be sure Roldan will be in the mix.

The 27-year-old can pass, can shoot a bit, and can play plenty of defense. He can also play two positions, central midfield and right wing. Versatility counts a lot when fighting to make a World Cup.

“It’s added a lot of confidence,” Roldan said, “knowing that I can compete against León, against Pumas, against the top teams in Mexico. And so hopefully that can translate to the national team as well.”

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Roldan is likely to get the chance to show his stuff in the Americans’ last two games of the summer, Concacaf Nations League contests on Friday vs. Grenada (10 p.m., UniMás, TUDN, ESPN+) and Tuesday at El Salvador (10 p.m., FS1, UniMás, TUDN).

He didn’t play in the friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay because those were the games for the stars to get their run. Now the rest of the squad will get its turn. If you want a player to focus on, Roldan is a good one.

“He competes more than, I think, anyone on the team,” Berhalter said. “Fantastic attitude, student of the game, always learning, always improving, and, unfortunately, he hasn’t gotten game time yet. ... I’ve had to have a number of conversations with Cristian and just tell him to try to be patient, and I would like to get him on the field these next two games.”

Berhalter then paid Roldan a compliment that likely carries a lot of weight in a coach’s mind.

“If there’s any guy that’s going to try to do exactly what we ask, it’s going to be Cristian,” Berhalter said. “He’s going to give every single thing he has, and we really appreciate his effort and what he brings to this team.”

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No one knows better how hard Roldan has fought to earn respect than his close friend and Sounders teammate Jordan Morris.

“He never stops working,” Morris said. “Wherever you put him on the field, whatever his role is, he’s going to embrace it completely. … Throughout his career, he’s worked incredibly hard to get to this spot that he’s in now, playing for the national team, and we’re all just obviously super excited for him.”

Morris also is 27, and his career dovetails with Roldan’s beyond their friendship. It’s already been seven years since Morris erupted onto the scene as a Stanford sophomore — and six years since he caused a firestorm by turning pro with the Sounders instead of Germany’s Werder Bremen.

Morris eventually did go to Europe, joining Swansea City of England’s second tier at the start of 2021. Unfortunately, his stay there was cut short by one of many brutal injuries he has suffered in his career. But at least he got a taste of the bigger stage.

» READ MORE: Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan share the joy and relief of the USMNT qualifying for the World Cup

Roldan, meanwhile, has spent his entire pro career in Seattle. And the Twitter storms keep coming, as sure as the rain douses the ferries on Puget Sound. But his mix of talent and work ethic is one that even Philadelphia fans can respect from afar.

“There’s added pressure for sure,” Roldan said. “But if what I have been doing over the last five, six, seven years has gotten me to the national team, I’m going to continue to do that and fall back on those details to hopefully make the squad come November.”