On January 15, El Rancho High School alumnus Cristian Roldan was selected sixteenth by the Seattle Sounders FC in the first round of the Major League Soccer draft. His achievements at El Rancho were just the beginning of what will soon be his professional career. In fact, Roldan says, “If I was told two years ago that I would be drafted into the MLS after my sophomore year in college, I would have said you were the biggest liar.”
Prior to the draft, an MLS combine took place where each player competed and was ranked according to their performance and skills. Roldan was predicted to be the second pick of the round but was instead chosen 16th. Even though Roldan went lower than predicted, he says that “the lower you go, the better the team is.”
While at El Rancho, Roldan was on the boys’ varsity soccer team all four years. During his senior year, he was named Gatorade Player of the Year. He is the fourth male Gatorade National Player of the Year from California, and the first from Los Angeles County. This award is given to the best student athlete in each of the twelve sports of the fifty states. The honor is based on athletic achievement, academic excellence, and exemplary character. One male and one female are selected from the twelve National Player of the Year recipients. A national panel made up of sports journalist and coaches then votes on a player. Finally, the two athletes of the year receive their awards at a special ceremony.
In addition, Roldan also graduated high school with an overall GPA of 3.73. He says that his time at El Rancho helped him “transition from an academic standpoint easier than [he] thought it would be.”
He believes Dominic Picon, his Intro to Law teacher, has been the most influential person in his life because “he taught [him] what character is, which goes a long way.” Picon, head soccer varsity coach at the time, says that Roldan was “an extremely hard worker that had a lot of heart on the field.” Senior Francisco Miranda played with Roldan when he was at El Rancho and says, “it was a great experience to have been able to play with a player that has great talent like [Cristian Roldan]; it’s rare to find someone with so much talent yet be so humble.”
Miranda also adds that Roldan influenced him in a way that made him develop his leadership skills on and off the field. Roldan credits part of his success to school. He says, “I didn’t get where I am today without school. I know I’m leaving early so I am kind of contradicting myself, but it took a high GPA to get into college.” As for any advice to anyone wanting to take the same course of action, he says, “take your education as seriously as you can and the rest will come [along].”
After high school, Roldan was recruited by the University of Washington and was offered a full-ride scholarship. He then went on to win other awards at the University of Washington, including Newcomer of the Year, Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, National Freshman of the Year, and Pac-12 Academic honorable mention. Alternatively, he made the decision to leave school because he was able to sign a contract that offered to pay for his studies on top of everything else that was offered. He says, “my education is very important to my family and I, and knowing that I have school paid for afterwards made [the decision] easier.” While playing professionally, Roldan will still be attending school by taking an online class every quarter. He knows that getting into a professional environment will only make him a better player and says, “the sooner I’m able to do so, the better off I will be.”
Another part of Roldan’s success has been his endless support system, which includes his family. Alexander Roldan, the youngest of the three brothers, who now attends Seattle University, says that he “admires [his brother’s] ambition and competitiveness to strive for success.” Alex was relieved that his brother ended up in a place that benefits both of them because he is allowed to see him at the same time his brother develops his professional career.
Some of the biggest challenges that Roldan will be facing are “the speed and physicality of playing at the next level.” He says that playing professionally isn’t a luxury job because “you have to produce to keep receiving a paycheck.” However, he was also relieved that the Sounders drafted him because “Seattle has been [his] second home for the past two years.” He is most excited about “being able to share a locker room with guys like Clint Dempsey and Ozzie Alonso.”
The Sounder season starts on March 8, yet practice for the Sounders started the day after the draft and, so far, Roldan says, “It’s been a very different change. I’m playing with guys who are now 10-12 years older than me.” Moreover, Picon says that Roldan will continue to be successful because “soccer is his passion. He is totally dedicated to becoming the best player he can be and is willing to learn from anyone.” He also adds, “[Cristian] comes from a great family. I coached all three of the Roldan brothers and what stands out about them is that they were all very good kids that were completely dedicated to El Rancho High School.”