TORONTO—Hopes are already high in Toronto for newly acquired goalkeeper Clint Irwin.
How high? TFC feel they’ve just landed an MLS All-Star caliber ‘keeper who can help push them to greater heights than last year's inaugural playoff appearance.
“We're delighted to acquire an experienced goalkeeper, an MLS All-Star, that knows the league,” said TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, on a Tuesday conference call. “It's one of the last remaining pieces of the puzzle to take our club from an MLS playoff qualifier to a contender.”
Irwin joins Drew Moor, Steven Beitashour and Will Johnson as major additions for the upcoming season, addressing several of TFC's perceived weaknesses along the backline. A true starting ‘keeper was considered the final question mark.
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“We explored a number of options, both in MLS and in Europe,” Bezbatchenko said. “[We] felt that Clint fit on the field, and also culturally and with our fans.
“He's going into the prime of his career. With his experience in Canada, we think it will be a quick transition process.”
The move heralds a return to Canada for Irwin, a Charlotte, North Carolina native who spent the 2011 season with Ottawa's now defunct Canadian Soccer League side, Capital City FC. Irwin said his time in Ottawa was a learning experience.
“There's a lot of things that you learn … perseverance and hard work," Irwin said. "Playing on a field in London, Ontario, 10 people watching, you're thinking, 'How am I ever going to make it to MLS?' And then a couple years later you're playing in front of 40,000 in Seattle. It's surreal. It grounds you. It's one of those experiences that I will always remember.”
The sudden trade – after three seasons and 90 appearances with the Rapids – did come as a surprise, however.
“There was no indication, and I certainly didn't ask for anything,” Irwin said. “Over the past week, there was speculation, and I realized it could be a possibility.”
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Irwin reunites with former Colorado teammate Moor; the pair had stayed in touch since he signed a free-agent contract with Toronto in December.
“He was one of my favorite teammates in Colorado, so I was disappointed when he left, but to be reunited is awesome,” Irwin said. “It'll help make that transition smoother.”
After all, getting the mix right was the plan.
“We needed to change the chemistry of the backline,” said Bezbatchenko. “Something was off last year, collectively as a unit. We needed a fresh start. [Clint] is one of the top ‘keepers in the league, and we feel that with the players in front of him, we can help him be an All-Star every year."