Toronto FC: Keepers typify the competitive spirit

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 22: Dominic Oduro
MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 22: Dominic Oduro /

Toronto FC are sitting pretty at the top of the MLS standings, but their goalkeepers don’t seem to be getting as much attention as the rest of the team. We attended training last week, to speak to Clint Irwin and Alex Bono.

Toronto FC find themselves sitting at the top of the MLS standings. They boast some of the best attackers in the league including; former MVP Sebastian Giovinco, USA’s Gold Cup hero Jozy Altidore and MLS assist leader Victor Vazquez.

It is their goalkeepers that are getting a little less attention, despite having one of the best defensive records in the MLS.

After backstopping the Colorado Rapids for three years, TFC traded a third round pick and allocation money for Clint Irwin to be their number one.

A year earlier TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko drafted Alex Bono of Syracuse University sixth overall in the MLS Super Draft.

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Now, the two keepers are at crossroads of their careers, competing for the number one spot on MLS’s number one team.

“It’s a good way to keep the team competitive, keep training sessions competitive, keeping the training levels high. It’s a way to make both of us better players,” Bono said after practice last Thursday.

There is competition throughout the TFC ranks, with almost no one guaranteed a starting spot. This year alone, left back mainstay Justin Morrow has seen his place come under competition from youngster Raheem Edwards.

That completion, which is rife through the squad, is a culture the team is embracing from the coaching staff through to the players.

“I spoke with the coaching staff and the goalkeepers, this year and last year, and said we’re all going to get better if we push each other. I know what pushes me and it’s when there is competition- true competition,” Irwin said at the TFC training ground.

The difference with goalkeepers though, is they can’t avoid the competing player. While the rest of the squad mingle between the 20 of them, Bono and Irwin go through training almost one-on-one, along with goalie coach Jon Conway. They spend extensive time together on game day too, going through their warm ups.

Toronto FC
COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO – APRIL 02: Goal keeper Clint Irwin /

At this point, few would have faulted TFC for going all in on Bono, who was such a highly touted prospect and had already stepped in for 16 games during Irwin’s injury in 2016.

But the competitive spirit the team is building, would not be halted, Bezbatchenko again brought in Irwin, sending Mark Bloom to Atlanta for his return. Soon after, Irwin signed a new two-year contract with TFC.

“It was a little bit weird, on the day of the expansion draft being unprotected at the time, and not really sure what was going to happen,” Irwin said of the process. “It’s been good to have that confidence, that I am wanted. I’m just trying to do my best to repay that faith.”

On Sunday afternoon the dangerous New York City FC came to BMO Field, led by the reigning MVP David Villa. Bono was picked in net and he kept a clean sheet, as TFC put on a statement 4-0 win.

In the previous game, Irwin played in the disappointing 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids. Both players shouldn’t get used to the rotation though.

“I have two starting capable goalkeepers, and that is a luxury. In many of the games, we’ve chosen Alex, but it’s important right now that there is a competition for the position,” head coach Greg Vanney said after practice.

“I really have no problem choosing either one of them on the day. It’s just a matter of, I don’t want to be bouncing back and forth from game to game, week to week.”

Vanney doesn’t have a specific time or routine in letting his keepers know who is starting the game. Keeping both players on their toes throughout the week, they could be told as early as Monday or the day of the game.

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“I always prepare the same way, wherever you are at the training field you have to prepare to feel like you’re ready to go that day and do what you can,” Irwin said. “You never know what can happen, even if you’re on the bench in warm ups.”