Saturday’s title match between Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders at BMO Field (8 pm ET; FOX, UniMás | TSN, RDS in Canada) will see a good number of youngsters play leading roles.
Here’s my list of the top five players 24 or younger (sorry, Joevin Jones!) who should feature on Saturday:
1) Jordan Morris
Surprise, surprise. It’s no shock that Jordan Morris takes the top spot on this list. The Seattle Sounders Homegrown recently took home 2016 AT&T Rookie of the Year honors, is a regular call to the US national team and, along with Nicolas Lodeiro, is one of the two most important pieces in the Sounders’ attack.
Seattle’s leading scorer with 12 regular-season goals, Morris has largely played out wide in the playoffs, scoring two goals and adding an assist in five postseason matches to help the Sounders to their first MLS Cup appearance. He should find room on the flank to attack Toronto’s 3-5-2 on Saturday. If he can continue his fine playoff form, the Sounders will have a good shot of taking home the big one.
2) Cristian Roldan
Cristian Roldan gets overshadowed a bit by his good buddy Morris, but he’s nearly as important to the Sounders. The second-year midfielder really came into his own in 2016, particularly down the stretch. He’s been stout next to star defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso in the central midfield, playing a key role for Seattle in both the attack and on defense. How he plays against TFC’s likely midfield trio of Bradley, Armando Cooper and Will Johnson on Saturday will be crucial for the Sounders’ chances.
3) Jonathan Osorio
Jonathan Osorio was a regular starter for Toronto all season, but was left out of the XI to make way for Will Johnson in TFC’s victory against the Montreal Impact in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship series. I expect that’ll be the case again on Saturday, but Osorio – who had two goals and five assists in 30 regular-season appearances and has two goals this postseason – could play a key role off the bench, especially if TFC need a goal or two.
4) Nick Hagglund
This postseason has been a bit of a rollercoaster for Nick Hagglund, who has been at the heart of several huge moments – both good and bad – during TFC’s run to Cup. While he’s been occasionally shaky in defense, the third-year center back has been huge for Toronto in the attack, scoring a huge goal in Leg 2 against Montreal and recording assists in the Knockout Round against Philadelphia and in the East semis against NYCFC. He’ll be tested against Morris, Lodeiro and striker Nelson Valdez, TFC will need him to hold firm.
5) Eriq Zavaleta
A member of the Sounders in 2013, Eriq Zavaleta teams with Hagglund and Drew Moor to form TFC’s three-headed center back trio. The converted striker, who happens to be Toronto head coach Greg Vanney’s nephew, is still developing as a defender, but he’s shown solid progress in 2016, particularly in the latter part of the season. Like Hagglund, he’s started all five of Toronto’s playoff matches and could play a large role in determining who lifts MLS Cup on Saturday.