Soccer star Cristian Roldan makes rare choice to stay and play

The Gatorade national player of the year stuck with Pico Rivera El Rancho High though academy club programs were interested in him.

Every once in a while, a high school athlete comes along with the kind of character, commitment and talent to make himself a standout in his community.

Cristian Roldan from El Rancho High in Pico Rivera is that teenager.

Given his exceptional soccer ability, he could have abandoned his classmates and accepted offers to use his skills at a higher level.

Academy club programs from the Galaxy and Chivas USA expressed interest in him. But if Roldan accepted, he'd have to give up playing for his high school team.

"I chose the high school path, because I owe everything to my high school," Roldan said.

The loyalty shown by Roldan is absent so many times in high school sports these days. But look what he was able to accomplish.

This last soccer season, he scored 54 goals and had 31 assists to help the Dons finish 29-2-1 and win the Southern Section Division 3 championship.

He received a soccer scholarship to Washington. And this week, former MLS standout Alexi Lalas showed up while Roldan was making a presentation in a marine biology class to give him the biggest news of all: Roldan was selected the Gatorade national player of the year in boys' soccer.

"I was shocked," Roldan said. "I had no clue."

It is a lesson for all the boys' soccer players in Southern California who are frequently torn over whether to play high school soccer or join club programs that threaten to drop them if they don't devote full attention to the goals of U.S. Soccer.

It really is a silly choice, but the powers have spoken, and parents and athletes must choose.

"I'm fine," Roldan said of his choice.

He said he probably lost out on scholarship offers from higher-profile college programs, but he's happy to go to Washington.

"They're not known for soccer, and when I go, I can be the franchise player," he said.

He's 5 feet 8, 165 pounds. He's a first-generation American born to a mother and father who came here from Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised three boys.

"We didn't get anything handed to us," Roldan said. "Both parents didn't graduate from college but expect us to graduate and accomplish big things."

Roldan, the middle child, has made his family and community proud.

"This is a very small town," El Rancho soccer Coach Dominic Picon said of Pico Rivera. "It's a one high school town, and just about everybody knows who he is."

Across Southern California, sports fans should be cheering for Roldan to go as far as he can in soccer. He's the kind of athlete everyone should want to succeed.

Masters Meet

The Southern Section Masters Meet, used for qualifying for next weekend's state track and field championships in Clovis, will be held Friday at Cerritos College. Field events begin at 4:30 p.m. and the first running event is at 6 p.m.

FS West's PrepZone will stream the event live beginning at 5:30 p.m.

City surprise

L.A. University High pulled off the biggest City Section baseball surprise in years Wednesday, handing No. 3-seeded Chatsworth its first-ever loss in a first-round playoff game during the Tom Meusborn coaching era, which begin in 1990. University won, 11-10, in nine innings, getting a tiebreaking home run from Jordan Yrastorza.

"We just had agreement whatever happened today, we were going to leave it on the field," University Coach Jarret Barbarick said afterward.

University, seeded No. 19, will play at L.A. Marshall on Friday in a quarterfinal game.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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