Immigrant World Cup dreams come true for Cristian Roldán

The Roldán family household in Pico Rivera breathes and dreams of football. The living room is stuffed with trophies, balls, jerseys, soccer shoes and sports prizes.

The all-consuming topic of family conversation these days? The FIFA World Cup, which opens in the Middle East on Sunday in host country Qatar.

But only on Monday will the Roldán clan be completely captivated by the world’s most popular sporting event. Then the US men’s soccer team takes the field for their opening match against Wales. Among the 26 US players who will take the field will be Cristian Roldán, a midfielder of Salvadorian and Guatemalan descent who plays professionally for Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders.

Among the fans at Al Rayyan Stadium for the biggest fútbol Partying on the planet will be his parents César and Ana Roldán, immigrants from Central America, who last week made every effort to fly to Doha, the capital of Qatar, to watch their 27-year-old son play for his family’s adoptive family in the country . Cristian’s two brothers, César Arnoldo, 30, and Álex, 26, will also attend all three US first-round games.

“Everything is almost ready, just a few details are missing,” said Ana, a housewife and native of Santiago de la Frontera, a municipality in Santa Ana province in western El Salvador. The only thing missing at this point were papers from the US Football Association.

“It’s hard to digest,” added César, who is originally from Zacapa, Guatemala. He still can’t quite take in what his son has achieved and notes that he has instilled a love of sport in Cristian to keep him healthy and off the streets.

Ana immigrated to Houston in 1982, where she lived with her sisters before moving to LA two years later. César left Guatemala in 1982 in search of better job opportunities.

Cristian started playing football at the age of 5 and his brothers also started playing the sport, joining local youth clubs. Her parents regularly took her to tournaments. Sometimes, after his nine-hour shift as a mechanic, César would come home at 6:30 a.m. and take the whole family to a game.

Although Cristian is currently the main attraction of his family, the Roldáns are equally proud of their other children’s achievements. César Arnoldo, 30, is the LA Galaxy’s fitness coach. Álex, 26, plays with his brother for the Seattle Sounders and has also played for the El Salvador national team.

Two Seattle Sounders jerseys hang in the family living room, Alex’s #16 and Cristian’s #7. On a glass table between the couches rests a trophy Cristian earned for his 54 goals for El Rancho High School in the 2012-2013 season. a performance that earned him the Gatorade National Player of the Year Award. Former US national team star Alexi Lalas went to high school to present Cristian with the award, his father recalled.

Before Cristian finished high school, the Roldáns sent DVDs showing his skills to a dozen universities. The footballer was still in limbo when Ana noticed at a tournament in San Diego that the University of Washington team’s coach had been scouting for talent.

“If you’re looking for players, look at number 11,” Ana advised the coach.

It only took a few minutes of watching Cristian to convince him and he called the family that afternoon.

After scoring 10 goals with seven assists in two seasons with the University of Washington Huskies, Cristian left college early to enter Major League Soccer. In 2016, he scored his first goal for the Seattle Sounders in a 5-0 loss to FC Dallas. The 21-year-old explained at the time: “I want to win a lot of trophies, I want to go to a World Cup because it’s the best football tournament.”

To date, he has played 279 games and scored 36 goals in various competitions with the Seattle Sounders. Seattle won the MLS Cup in 2019. In Qatar he will fulfill another part of his lifelong dream and play alongside Wales in the first round against England and Iran.

El retrato de Cristian Roldán engalana la casa de sus padres en la ciudad de Pico Rivera.

A photo of Cristian Roldán surrounded by other memorabilia at his parents’ home in Pico Rivera.

(Raul Roa/Los Angeles Times)

A year ago, in preparation for the quadrennial event, the US team settled in Marina del Rey and trained for a month at Dignity Health Sports Park, home of the LA Galaxy. One day Cristian suddenly told his mother that he was free.

“Let’s go there and make some dolls,” he suggested. USA team’s World Cup hopefuls Jordan Morris, Aaron Long, Matt Turner and Walker Zimmerman took part in the impromptu fiesta.

“Morris has been here a lot and really likes the dolls,” Ana said of her son’s Seattle Sounders clubmates. Teammates enjoyed the popular Salvadoran dish while watching an American football game on the terrace of the family home.

“You screamed. We kept it very private,” said César

Though Cristian has found a favorite spot in Seattle that serves dolls, he wouldn’t trade them for the ones he gets when he visits his parents.

“I love dolls,” he told an MLS publication. But he added, “I will always miss my mother’s.”

Ana Roldán, originally from El Salvador, endorses a photo of Campeón de El Rancho High School.

Ana Roldán, a native of El Salvador, shares a photo of her son Cristian’s soccer team when he played for El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera.

(Raul Roa/Los Angeles Times)

Because of his lineage, Cristian would have been eligible to play for El Salvador, Guatemala or the United States. He sought advice from several of his coaches, who urged him to remain patient and wait for the US team to be called up, as they have better resources and would give his career a bigger boost.

Gregg Berhalter, coach of the US team, appreciates not only Cristian’s outstanding skills but also his temperamental qualities.

“We know what kind of attitude you bring,” he once told Cristian. “Please keep it up, your mentality is contagious.”

But in the days before Berhalter announced his final roster for the tournament, the family felt a little uneasy.

“We walked back and forth here and there,” said César, who had bombarded his son with text messages asking if he had heard any news.

Like his parents, Cristian was anxiously waiting in Seattle to see if he would make it. At around 10 a.m. on November 6, he received a text message from Zimmerman, a defenseman at Nashville SC, saying that Zimmerman had been included in the World Cup roster.

Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldán is the balon who continuously participates in MLS football.

Cristian Roldán attacks against Kansas City in a September 2021 game.

(Nick Tre. Smith / Associated Press)

A few minutes passed that felt like hours. Then Cristian got a call that happily paid off all the years of effort.

“Are you and mommy both there?” He texted his parents. His father confirmed that they were.

“I’m going to Qatar!” Cristian cried out before shedding tears of gratitude for his parents’ dedication and sacrifice.

“I couldn’t be here without you,” he said between sobs. “From the bottom of my heart I just want to thank you for everything.” Immigrant World Cup dreams come true for Cristian Roldán

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