Mix Diskerud of the U.S. directs his teammates during the second half of their U-23 international friendly soccer match against Mexico in Frisco

Which U.S. men can go from Gold Cup to World Cup?

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In terms of a competition, this ongoing Gold Cup is like an NCIS or Law and Order rerun for a lot of U.S. supporters: It’s just something on TV, and they’ll watch because there’s nothing better on.

But that doesn’t mean that the tournament doesn’t have a place in the bigger picture, that it can’t supply some pieces to the big puzzle.

The clear, important subtext of Gold Cup play for the United States is what it could mean for World Cup roster spots that will be announced in about 10 months. (Spots that will announced in about 10 months … and how about that!)

Yes, we’re being presumptuous – the United States is going to Brazil. Get on board … it’s great in here!

Players have worked their way into World Cup spots through this competition previously, and they will again.

(MORE: Gold Cup preview of United States vs. Belize)

For purposes of this exercise, we are going to take Stuart Holden and Landon Donovan off the table. They are going to the World Cup next year unless they fall completely off the table performance-wise. (Or, obviously, if they get hurt.)

Here then are the four men who have the best opportunity to play their way into a World Cup spot over the coming three weeks.

Mix Diskerud: Remember, this young man is just 22, so his best years remain ahead. Diskerud – who has gone from two “Xs” lately to just one – could be passed over for Brazil 2014 and still conceivably play big roles in two World Cups.

That said, he’s got the opportunity dangling now. Diskerud (pictured above) already looks like a Michael Bradley starter kit, a technically adept two-way midfielder, not really a holding man and not really a playmaker, but able to perform either role adequately at present. That versatility becomes useful when managers fill out roster spots No. 18 through 23 at a World Cup.

It’s on Diskerud to show Jurgen Klinsmann he deserves one of those spots over the next three weeks.

Brek Shea: The Stoke City man has already accomplished something with his bright 30 minutes last week against Guatemala, getting Klinsmann to take notice. Shea earned a Gold Cup roster spot with those 30 minutes, plus whatever he demonstrated in a few days of training.

A few more evenings with that kind of attacking desire on display, parlayed with the former FC Dallas’ winger’s natural physical ability, and the manager will be hard pressed not to assign Shea a seat on the charter into Brazil next year.

Jose Torres: Klinsmann is an optimist by nature. So if Torres can finally put on the kind of display the manager keeps asking of him, Klinsmann will be inclined to believe the Texas native will deliver more of the same going forward. But it must happen now!

Torres absolutely, positively has to lean into this one, pressing the attack and finding more ways to impact the game. Leave the safe passes to Kyle Beckerman and the center backs, already! Take on defenders. Change the angles. Open up the defense with some vision. Vary the attack to keep the defense off balance. All in all … just do more to put all that technical craft to better use.

Jack McInerney: Klinsmann knows what Chris Wondolowski can do at striker. He knows, more or less, what Will Bruin can do. Not so with McInerney, now getting his first up-close look from the manager. He’s got the opportunity to knock one of those guys aside in the depth chart ordering.

There are 10-15 U.S. goals out there through three group games, a quarterfinal, a semifinal and final – assuming this thing doesn’t fall off the tracks en route to the July 28 final at Soldier Field. If McInerney can get into the act a couple of times, putting those scorers instincts and that finishing proficiency to use at international level, he’ll make Klinsmann think hard about a roster spot next year.

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. West Brom (Lineups, Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea and Joleon Lescott of West Brom battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on November 22, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea hosts West Bromwich Albion from Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blues look to extend their eight-match win streak.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

The Blues make one change from last weekend’s 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Manchester City as Cesc Fabregas makes way in the starting XI for Nemanja Matic.

Antonio Conte‘s side will be opposed by a West Brom side that is unbeaten in their last four Premier League matches. The Baggies remain unchanged from last week’s 3-1 win over Watford as the side looks to move above eighth in the table.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard. Subs: Begovic, Aina, Ivanovic, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

West Brom: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom; Yacob, Fletcher (c); Brunt, Morrison, Phillips; Rondon. Subs: Palmer; Olsson, Robson-Kanu, Gardner, McClean, Galloway, Chadli.

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

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TORONTO — Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

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Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

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TORONTO — Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

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Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — When it came down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t land the title.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clearance.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

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