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Predicting the starting lineups for the 2019 MLS Cup

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Who might start in the third installment of “The Trilogy”?

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC
Toronto FC defender Omar Gonzalez (44) comes out to start the game with his player escort against Columbus Crew SC at BMO Field.
(Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports)

For the third time in four years, Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders will battle it out in the MLS Cup Final.

With their last meaningful encounter coming in 2017, however, the two sets of players will be very different from what we saw in the previous two editions. Let’s take a look.


2016 Final Lineups

From that 2016 side, six players remain for Seattle. Stefan Frei, Román Torres, Joevin Jones, Cristian Roldan, Nicolás Lodeiro and Jordan Morris. Chad Marshall ended his legendary MLS career earlier this season, after being forced to retire with an injury. Nobody from the bench in 2016 is still around.

Many of the returning players had a big impact in Seattle’s first MLS Cup victory, as Frei won MLS Cup MVP, denying Jozy Altidore with an jaw-dropping save. Torres scored the Cup-winning penalty for Seattle, while Lodeiro and Jones both scored in the shootout as well.

For TFC, nine players remain from the 2016 final, but only five of them are expected to play—or at least start. Eriq Zavaleta, Drew Moor, Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio, Michael Bradley, Justin Morrow, Tsubasa Endoh, Jozy Altidore and Alex Bono are all still around from that team.

From that group, Delgado, Osorio, Bradley, Morrow and Endoh are all expected to start on Sunday afternoon, and it seems Jozy Altidore might see a bit of action as well.


2017 Final Lineups

In 2017, Toronto got their revenge, winning their first MLS Cup to complete “the treble”. Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez scored the goals for TFC, and Sebastian Giovinco picked up an assist in a famous night at BMO Field.

The only addition from 2016 that remains for TFC in 2019 was CB Chris Mavinga, who is expected to start for the Reds again on Sunday.

For Seattle, Nouhou Tolo, Harry Shipp, Jordy Delem, Will Bruin, Kelvin Leerdam, Víctor Rodríguez and Gustav Svensson were the new additions in ‘17 that remain in 2019.

That means there are more than 20 players across the first two MLS Cup games between these teams that are still around.

MLS: Toronto FC at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Now, let’s take a look at who might start on Sunday.

Toronto FC

It’s worked so far, but I predict Toronto will only make one change to their Conference Final-winning side.

Jeffrey P. Nesker

GK — Quentin Westberg

In goal for Toronto FC will be Quentin Westberg. Westberg has been sensational for the Reds in these playoffs, and probably rescued the tie against Atlanta by saving a first-half penalty from Josef Martinez. He might be the difference maker in this match, and will likely be relied upon to make a few saves.

Jeffrey P. Nesker

LB — Justin Morrow

The man who missed the all-important penalty in 2016, Justin Morrow, has had another good year in 2019. After bouncing back from a poor 2018 campaign (something that can be said of pretty much everyone on the roster), Morrow has been solid defensively, and is back to being an attacking threat on that left flank.

CB — Chris Mavinga

Mavinga, one of the players who started in the 2017 Final, will be hoping to keep his MLS Cup winning percentage at 100% on Sunday. His speed and athleticism will be crucial as TFC look to stop Seattle’s impressive attack.

CB — Omar Gonzalez

The change.

Gonzalez is the only player here who didn’t start against Atlanta. He was recovering from a minor injury, but is going to be fit enough to play in this one, so I think he does. His arrival was the turning point for Toronto FC’s season, and he’s more than deserving of a spot in the starting lineup.

The only problem with bringing him into the starting lineup is that Laurent Ciman would have to sit out. Ciman has been excellent in these playoffs without Gonzalez, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Vanney went with the Belgian instead of the three-time MLS Cup Champion.

RB — Auro Jr.

Auro is another player who is finding his best form of the season at exactly the right time. The Brazilian has been good on both sides of the ball in recent times, taking his starting job back from Richie Laryea, who will also likely see the field at some point in this match.

Jeffrey P. Nesker

CM — Marky Delgado

The engine in midfield for Toronto FC, Marky Delgado is at his best when he’s given freedom to move around the pitch. He is solid defensively, but can also pick out a pass when given time, so he’ll be important on Sunday to win battles against the likes of Christian Roldan.

CM — Jonathan Osorio

Jonathan Osorio is a big game player. He’s had “possibly his best game as a Toronto FC player” multiple times in these playoffs according to the commentary team, and it’s hard to disagree with that. He isn’t scoring for fun like he was in 2018, but he’s really stepped up in the second half of 2019 to help get TFC to this point, and is capable of making something out of nothing for a moment of magic. Expect to see him leave his foot in for a tackle or two.

CM — Michael Bradley

The skipper has a lot riding on this game — his 200th with the Reds. With a win, he’ll automatically trigger a one-year, $6.5 million contract extension, something he’ll have earned if he guides TFC to a second MLS Cup victory in three years.

Money aside, he would undoubtedly be the best player in Toronto FC history in my opinion if he lifts yet another trophy, and may already be leading that conversation regardless.

Jeffrey P. Nesker

LW — Nicolas Benezet

It was Nicolas Benezet’s goal that equalized for TFC in Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Final. He’s been consistently good on the left side for Toronto FC since joining the squad, complementing Alejandro Pozuelo nicely while the latter has been forced to play up top.

RW — Tsubasa Endoh

Tsubasa Endoh’s rise during the second half of this season has been incredible to see, and he’s well-deserving of a spot in Toronto’s starting lineup for the Final. After TFC’s victory in the 2017 final, Endoh was stuck with TFC II in 2018, but in 2019 has proven that he’s capable of starting in MLS.

Nick DeLeon, who scored a sensational goal to put TFC through to the final in the aforementioned Atlanta game, could start in place of Endoh, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the 2016 first-round pick steps on the pitch at CenturyLink Field on Sunday at some point.

CF — Alejandro Pozuelo

While Jozy Altidore MIGHT be able to play a role in Seattle, reports on him have been incredibly inconsistent at best. Pozuelo has been playing in a false-9 role throughout these playoffs, and has been excellent, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Greg Vanney has pulled tricks out of his magic hat scarf before. (see: 2017 MLS Cup Final when he changed up the formation unexpectedly, throwing Seattle’s gameplan out the window.)

Could Vanney change to some sort of a 5-3-2 and catch Brian Schmetzer off guard again? This would allow Laurent Ciman to stay in the starting lineup alongside Gonzalez, but would mean that one of TFC’s wingers would have to drop to the bench.

Will Vanney take a risk and do something unexpected? Only time will tell.

Oh yeah, and a win would be his 100th at the helm of Toronto FC.


Here’s the full predicted XI for TFC.

Jeffrey P. Nesker

Seattle Sounders

For the bad guys, I predict that Seattle will look to replicate the success that they had against LAFC in the Western Conference Final.

The only change I think they’ll make from that match is perhaps bringing in CB Roman Torres, who scored the winning penalty in 2016, for Xavier Arreaga, assuming Torres is healthy enough to start.

Seattle were excellent offensively, especially in wide areas, something that could burn TFC, but Will Bruin, who scored a brace against TFC back in April, is out because of injury. His “replacement” — if you want to call it that — is the excellent Raul Ruidiaz, who was once again impressive in LA last time out.

As Waking the Red’s Brady Reid pointed out in his match preview, Seattle scored 52 goals in the regular season, with over half of them (27) coming from the resurgent Jordan Morris (13 goals) and the aforementioned Ruidiaz (14).

Joevin Jones left Seattle for Darmstadt 98 in Germany after the 2017 Final, but he’s now back with the Sounders and playing really well at the moment. He should be Justin Morrow’s assignment on Seattle’s right wing.

And once again, former TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei will get the start between the sticks for the home team, looking to put forth a third straight impressive performance in an MLS Cup Final.

Have your say below. Is this the best Reds’ lineup they can throw out on Sunday? Does this give them a legitimate chance to win? We’ll find out soon enough.