Soon, another January will be upon us and a whole new slate of national team friendlies will begin for the United States and Canada. With both nations already holding auditions for the next World Cup cycle, Saturday's MLS Cup rematch between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders will include a group of young players that can use the game to raise both championship silver and their chances of a call-up.
Four of the five listed will suit up for the home-standing Reds, and four of them vie for glances in the US national team pool. All of them are hoping to be on the next wave for their international sides.
Alex Bono 🇺🇸
In his first full season as Toronto FC starter between the pipes, 23-year-old Alex Bono has rung up 13 shutouts on their road to MLS Cup. He also stopped two spot kicks, and chalked up winning streaks extending to five and six games.
Bono finished fourth the MLS Goalkeeper of the year voting and does need to tidy up in the distribution department. But with the USMNT net picture wide open at the moment, the Reds backstop could parlay his big saves and agile area presence into a look.
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Marky Delgado 🇺🇸
It may be forgotten by many, but Toronto FC actually won just once in their first six games this season. And then, Marky Delgado entered the lineup, and they've gone 17-5-5 when he starts since the change.
The 22 year-old links so much of their play into the final third, and yet still found time to lead the Supporters' Shield holders in tackles per game. Delgado's is a crowded position in the USMNT scheme moving forward, but perhaps the next fully-installed manager finds that an indispensable TFC cog could prove useful.
Raheem Edwards 🇨🇦
Though his impact waned past July (which ended with a corker of a first MLS goal), 22-year-old Raheem Edwards remains a handy TFC weapon for the championship game. He provided strong relief play when their depth was tested during the opening months of the season.
Operating mostly from the left wingback slot, Edwards notched an impressive eight helpers in just more than 1,400 minutes played across all competitions. The wily flank runner, who broke through for his first two Canada caps this past summer has a knack for wiggling his way into opponents' areas.
Cristian Roldan 🇺🇸
This season, 22-year-old Cristian Roldan became the Sounders' ignition switch. On a repeat-seeking side that loves to break with intent and turn own-zone giveaways into goals, Roldan clogs the middle as easily as he sets the team sprinting forward. He co-led the league in tackles and reclaimed possession for his side more than 11.5 times per game.
The motoring midfielder has also pitched in with six goals and stands second on the Sounders in key passes. A US debutant and No. 13 on 24 Under 24 in 2017, Roldan is the only player on this list heading into Saturday's title showdown who already owns an MLS Cup ring.
Eriq Zavaleta 🇺🇸
Rangy 25-year-old Eriq Zavaleta has grown into quite the tidy MLS back liner over the last couple of seasons and has also improved on the ball. A good athlete, Zavaleta does a little a bit of everything to clean up messes, and led the team in tackles this season.
Like the midfielders listed above, the Toronto FC defender has a large collection of talented youngsters to compete with for USMNT attention. However, many of them play overseas, while Zavaleta will have the big MLS Cup stage to advertise for a January call-up.
ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: The 2017 MLS season comes down to this... Seattle vs. Toronto, an MLS Cup rematch that might just be the best final of all-time, depending on who you ask. Will the Sounders repeat? Will the Reds lay claim the best season of all-time? David Gass and Sam Stejskal get things started from the Six, and Andrew and Matt finish things off from the Green Room back in NYC. Subscribe so you never miss a show! Download this episode!