The lineup decisions that remain for the 2017 MLS Cup

TORONTO – Jozy Altidore was a man of few words, very few words, at Toronto FC’s Thursday afternoon press conference around the corner from TFC’s Kia Training Ground in the Downsview district of suburban Toronto.

Sitting next to his teammate Michael Bradley and head coach Greg Vanney, the strapping striker revealed precious little to the gathered ranks of media – but he did make sure to leave little doubt about his status for Saturday’s MLS Cup clash with the Seattle Sounders (4 pm ET; ESPN, UniMás in US | TSN, TVAS in Canada). 

“Yeah, I’ll play,” he said when asked about the ankle injury that forced him out of the Reds’ taut 1-0 defeat of Columbus Crew SC in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship last week, just after he scored the series-winning goal.

But could the pain be a limiting factor in his efforts to gain revenge on Seattle in this title bout rematch?

“It doesn’t matter,” he answered. 

A mere six words, yet they seemed to put to rest any concerns – and so did his participation in Thursday’s training session, with Altidore showing no signs of gimpiness or hesitation in the limited warmup activities that members of the media were allowed to watch. 

If Altidore does indeed start up top alongside Sebastian Giovinco, that leaves few remaining lineup questions on either side of Saturday’s affair.

TFC coach Greg Vanney will decide between Steven Beitashour and Nicolas Hasler at the right back/wingback slot, with Beitashour looking more likely to get the nod for his one-on-one defending given the threat of Sounders speedsters on the left, Joevin Jones and Nouhou Tolo.

Center backs Drew Moor, Chris Mavinga and Eriq Zavaleta are expected to start at the base of the Reds’ usual 3-5-2 shape. And in central midfield, Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio are the leading contenders to fill the third spot alongside Michael Bradley and Victor Vazquez.

Seattle Sounders

Things are slightly less settled for the Sounders. Roman Torres returns from a suspension served in the second leg of their Western Conference Championship defeat of the Houston Dynamo and should start at center back alongside Chad Marshall per usual. That allows Gustav Svensson to move into holding midfield next to Cristian Roldan, as longtime linchpin Ozzie Alonso – who’s played only 16 minutes this postseason due to injury – has been ruled out.

“Our process that we do is, we’re going to try and dictate to opposing teams. We don’t want to have lineup choices that are based on our opponents,” said coach Brian Schmetzer on Thursday. 

“[But] we try and dissect how they play and why they play in certain areas, and we get our matchups with guys … it will be an interesting choice, one that we’ll kick around here for the next couple days, and I’m confident with whoever we roll out on the team.”

Will Bruin and Clint Dempsey will lead the line, but Schmetzer has ample options in the central band and out wide. Nicolas Lodeiro will feature in some form, while Victor Rodriguez made a powerful case for earning another start. Jones and Tolo can both play either left back or left wing, while Kelvin Leerdam is the incumbent at right back.

“Whichever way we go with the lineup choices that we have, both Joevin and Nouhou are very good at what they do. They defend well, they’re very good 1v1 defenders and then they can get up and down the field in a hurry,” said Schmetzer. “Kelvin has brought a steadying influence to our team, he’s played at a high level and the statistics bear a lot of good things.

“Certainly that matchup between Beitashour and Morrow and whoever we play on the left and right, it’ll be an interesting matchup to see who gets the best out on those flank areas.”

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