As the sun begins to set in Toronto on Saturday, two teams that played for a championship last season will renew pleasantries once more. For the second straight year, Toronto FC hosts MLS Cup, hoping for a different result against the Seattle Sounders who prevailed on penalties a year ago to claim their first league title.
While the home side hopes to achieve redemption at BMO Field, Seattle is looking to achieve an MLS Cup repeat. If they do so, they’ll become the fourth team to pull off the feat. The previous three include D.C. United (1996, 1997), the Houston Dynamo (2006, 2007) and LA Galaxy (2011, 2012).
Fans are expecting the big name, big money players to leave their mark on this contest. Whether it’s Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley for TFC or Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro and recent signing Victor Rodriguez for Seattle, the stars indelibly make their mark on these kind of games. But that doesn’t mean those who aren’t household names can’t make an impact as well.
That’s especially true of players whose pro careers began after competing collegiately. It’s a route that many observers are hoping gets marginalized from a development standpoint in favor of academy systems whether it’s domestically or in Europe. Still, NCAA soccer continues to churn out pro quality talent.
Two of the more prominent programs on the forefront are Indiana and Stanford. The Hoosiers are in search of their ninth national title while the Cardinal hope to become the first program since Bruce Arena’s Virginia team in 1993 to win three in a row. Both are playing in the semifinals of this year’s College Cup on Friday and could face off against each other two days later.
But nestled in between those two matchdays is the biggest match of the year for American professional soccer. Either Toronto will exorcise their demons from last year or Seattle will make it two in a row. And there are a few former Hoosiers and Cardinal players ready to make their mark. Find out who they are below.
Indiana and Stanford Soccer Have Multiple Chances to Shine on MLS Cup Weekend
For the second straight year, Zavaleta faces the team that drafted him with a championship on the line. This time, he hopes to get the best of them. Seattle selected him 10th overall in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft after a standout career at Indiana. He scored 28 goals and added nine assists in two seasons with the Hoosiers. It included a game-winning helper in the 2012 College Cup Final that propelled IU to its last national title, number eight in program history.
Zavaleta saw limited action during his rookie season in Seattle with the club loaning him out to Chivas USA the following year. In 2015, him and the Sounders parted ways with Toronto acquiring him ahead of the regular season. In that time, he made a unique transition from striker to center back. And ever since, he’s become an ever more important part of Greg Vanney’s system that’s gradually morphed into a 3-5-2 shape beginning in 2016.
Before his stints at Indiana and in MLS, the 25-year-old boasted plenty of international experience at youth level. He appeared in 23 matches with the United States under-17 team, including three starts at the 2009 World Cup at that level. Zavaleta also qualifies for the El Salvador national team through his father Carlos, and could conceivably play for them since he has yet to garner a senior team cap for the U.S.
Now 33 and hitting the twilight of his career, Moor realized a level of success at Indiana that few collegiate players can lay claim to. After transferring to IU from Furman, the Dallas native helped the Hoosiers win back-to-back national titles in 2003 and 2004. The first of those, a 2-1 triumph over St. John’s, took place in a virtual snowstorm at the facility now known as MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, OH.
After getting drafted sixth overall by FC Dallas in 2005, Moor proceeded to become one of the more consistent mainstays on defense in the entire league. He’s made a total of 347 starts over the course of his career which has also taken him to the Colorado Rapids before signing with Toronto FC last year. With Colorado, not only did he set the league record for most consecutive starts at 68. He also helped them win their first and only MLS Cup in 2010.
Moor joined TFC in 2016 as one of the first free agents in league history. Including regular season and playoffs, he started all but two games and alongside Zavaleta became a fixture in central defense as part of Vanney’s 3-5-2. But Moor ran into some adversity this season when doctors discovered an irregular heartbeat. It required an ablation procedure to correct the issue. Since then, he’s missed just two games and will be called upon to contain Seattle’s attack on Saturday if TFC want to hoist the cup this year.
Bruin experienced a renaissance of sorts in his first season with the Sounders after he spent the first six of his career with the Houston Dynamo. Last year, he managed career lows in goals, starts and minutes and looked to be on the decline. That turned out not to be the case, though. He rediscovered the form which saw him break the double-digit mark in goals three times previously. And he did so again in 2017, registering 11 tallies for a Seattle team that peaked at the right time for the second straight year.
The 2010 Hermann Trophy runner-up behind Darlington Nagbe showcased his attacking quality big time down the stretch for the Sounders. He found the net three times in their final two regular season games which they won by a combined score of 7-0. And in the Western Conference Final against his former club, he came through in the clutch one more. Bruin tallied a goal in each game as Seattle cruised into MLS Cup via a 5-0 aggregate victory.
Whether it’s blistering, well-timed runs or the good old-fashioned dirty work of a target man in the box, Bruin is highly versatile in connecting with passes from wide areas. His form of late has enabled manager Brian Schmetzer to tinker a bit, slotting Dempsey into a more withdrawn position in the hole underneath Bruin. The former Hoosier played in a pair of MLS Cups during his first two years in Houston, losing both to the Galaxy. This time around, the “dancing bear” is hoping the third time is a charm.
Similar to Moor above, Marshall is 33 and close to that over the hill portion of his career. They were actually teammates on the United States side that reached the quarterfinals of the 2003 U-20 World Cup. As a freshman at Stanford, Marshall helped lead the Cardinal to the College Cup final only to lose to UCLA. And in the stadium where Moor won a national title two years later, Marshall helped guide the pro club that plays there to its only MLS Cup trophy to date.
Five years after Columbus Crew SC drafted him second overall in the 2004 SuperDraft, he won MLS Defender of the Year honors as part of the Black and Gold’s Supporters’ Shield-MLS Cup double. He would go on to win the award two more times in 2009 and 2014. The latter came in his first season with the Sounders, a year that saw the Rave Green take home a double of their own: the Supporters’ Shield along with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
But despite all the regular season success since Seattle joined the league in 2009, that ultimate postseason prize eluded them until last year. Through the midseason adversity that resulted in Sigi Schmid’s firing all the way to that ecstatic triumph, Marshall made his mark. He tied a career high with four goals and played the most minutes of his career across all competitions. In the final, a game where they didn’t register a single shot on goal, he led the team along with midfield destroyer Osvaldo Alonso in clearing the ball eight times.
In 2017, the distributive dimension of his game really shined. He finished the regular season as one of just five players in MLS with at least 90 percent passing accuracy (minimum 2,000 minutes played). Him and primary center back partner Roman Torres presided over a defense that conceded eight goals in Seattle’s last 18 games including regular season and playoffs. Against a potent TFC attack, it will require more of the same.
When the season began, expectations were that Morris would figure the most prominently out of all these former Hoosier and Cardinal players in terms of their respective teams’ championship hopes. But the 23-year-old endured a sophomore slump in 2017. A year removed from a 12-goal campaign which led the Sounders, Morris managed just three this season. He also suffered a hamstring injury against the LA Galaxy on September 10th which caused him to miss the remainder of the regular season.
It’s unclear as to how much of an impact Morris will have in Saturday’s game. He came on as a second half sub in the second leg of Seattle’s triumph in the previous round, logging 14 minutes. Perhaps the most plausible scenario is him reprising that role off the bench, especially if these two clubs are knotted up late and in need of fresh legs running at tired ones. Morris served as the hero of Stanford’s first of two straight national titles when he notched a brace in a 4-0 win over Clemson in 2015. Two years later, his chance to replicate that role might come as a super sub. Regardless, both his club and school are in line to keep a streak of success going if they hold serve this weekend.