Alex Bono - Toronto TC - solo with ball

TORONTO – Age, even for a goalkeeper, ain't nothing but a number.


Alex Bono has been "excellent" for Toronto FC this season, as Greg Vanney said after Saturday's 4-1 win over Portland at BMO Field.


That victory marked a milestone for Bono: it was his 13th of the season, setting a new record for the club, as well as his 20th in Toronto, equalling Stefan Frei's all-time mark.


The 23-year old keeper's rise has been meteoric.


Drafted sixth overall in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, the Syracuse, New York native saw no action in his rookie MLS campaign, but an injury to Clint Irwin last season opened the door. Since then, Bono hasn't looked back.


“It's gone really fast. The fact I'm in third year already is crazy; I still remember driving up here the very first time,” said Bono after training on Tuesday. “You see such a gradual change, it's tough to have a [wide-angle view] at your body of work. You try and get better every day and then you don't quite remember where you started. I've grown leaps and bounds as a person, as an adult; as a player as well.”


What makes him the 'keeper he is? 


“Athletic ability, reading the game,” detailed Jon Conway, TFC's goalkeeping coach. “We [talk] about making sure that we are engaged with the back line; manage the space between the keeper and the defense. He does a great job coming for crosses. It takes a lot of pressure off the backs, being solid in the air. And first and foremost protecting the goal, making saves that he needs to make.”


Current success is the result of the "measured approach" the club took to his development.


“Matches with [USL reserve team] TFC II, bringing him along to get acclimated to the professional environment, to get confidence, and then eventually move into a position where he could step in to play,” outlined Conway. “His opportunity came last year in Orlando. He was able to get a good run.


“This is basically the foundation of his career,” continued Conway. “We're hoping to build a big, monstrous home that is going to expand a long, successful career. We're constantly trying to make sure the details are correct in training, with the right mentality, taking care of himself off the field, and then getting on the field and putting the results and performances together; stringing them consistently. That's how you are measured; week in, week out, for the long term.”

Toronto FC's Bono has emerged as GK fixture, with possible USMNT future - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Bonoiso982.jpg

It is rare for a goalkeeper to find success at such a tender age, the cliche being that 'keepers mature later than outfield players. 


“[It says] he has a very bright future,” quipped Vanney asked what that says about Bono. “He's been able to have some good experiences at a young age that he can build on. It's incumbent upon us to continue to challenge him, to grow his game. His upside is fantastic. I hope one day he'll get an opportunity within the national team to prove his worth.”


Bono, asked the same question, said: “It says that I still have a lot of room to grow.” 


“It doesn't matter where you are at 23. It's not about your first contract, it's about your second, third, fourth; creating a career for yourself,” said Bono. “I'm looking to continue building the foundation for a career, be able to do something I love for as long as I can. At this point I'm just worried about getting better each and every day, coming out here, putting my all on the field, and enjoying it while I do.”


It doesn't hurt that he is on the top team in the league, leading both the Eastern Conference and the Supporters' Shield races.


That fact, though, means Bono does not always get the plaudits of other, perhaps busier goalkeepers. His is a different challenge.


“It can be tougher when the team is playing well. Later in the game you're called upon to make a save; you have to be ready,” said Bono. “But to be fair, you wouldn't have it any other way.”


If he keeps up this trajectory, he could find his way in the conversation as one of the candidates to replace Tim Howard and Brad Guzan for the US national team when they call time on their international careers.


Bono has such aspirations: “Playing for the national team is the highest honor you can have as a player. It would be an honor to wear my national team crest.” 


“I don't know if or when that time will come, but it's that thing you're chasing consistently,” said Bono. “It can't be at the forefront; you have other things to worry about. It's something that happens when you put your head down, do the work, and when good things happen to your team, good things happen to the individual as well. I really believe that.” 


“It's one of the bigger goals I have as a player,” said Bono. “Right now I can't worry about that. When the times comes, if it comes. I hope it does.”


He hasn't heard a peep since appearing in January camp ahead of his draft, but with countrymen like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and now Justin Morrow teammates at Toronto, Bono has an inside glimpse to both the standard and the experience.


“You hear the stories, you see the games, and it's something you want to be a part of,” said Bono. “It's great that we have guys here who are mainstays. If you're playing well, they see it, and that you're hungry for it. When they go to camp and the staff asks about guys they have interest in, words coming from Michael and Jozy are big words."


Vanney is circumspect in the short term: “It's tough to say, given that we are less than a year from a World Cup. They've got veteran guys who have a pretty good hold on the position. It's a matter of what does Bruce [Arena] wants to do with his third spot.” 


“His real cycle is after this World Cup, that's where his opportunities exist.”