A rock in net for the club this season, Irwin’s backups were a pair of unknowns.
But, in the two hours of play since, a new No. 1 has emerged: Alex Bono.
The sixth selection in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft out of Syracuse, Bono has featured regularly with TFC II over the last two seasons. After splitting the duties with Quillan Roberts at the start of the year, he emerged as Irwin’s primary backup over the last month and a half and got the call when Irwin went down in the 70th minute in Orlando.
Bono’s MLS debut didn’t go exactly to plan (TFC conceded in the 83rd, equalized in the 90th, then lost 3-2 when Kaka converted a penalty in the 10th minute of stoppage time), but he showed well enough in Orlando and then helped Toronto to the Amway Canadian Championship title in his second start at Vancouver on Wednesday.
“He's been great,” said head coach Greg Vanney. “Aggressive, not afraid to come off his line, composed. The thing you want to see from a young ‘keeper is that he's not timid or nervous. He hasn't been, which is fantastic.”
“He's a young guy, finding his way, but he's always talking. That's a sign of a confident ‘keeper, organizing the guys front of him,” added defender Drew Moor. “He's a great shot stopper, comes for crosses, which I love. He proved on Wednesday that he's ready to step in and be our starter.”
Now he’s set to make his third straight start on Saturday against Seattle at BMO Field (7:30 pm ET; TSN2 in Canada, MLS LIVE in the US). If he continues to perform well, the job will likely be his until Irwin returns from his quad strain in six weeks. The Homegrown Roberts – who signed with the club in 2012 and whom TFC goalkeeper coach Jon Conway describes as “athletic” and “a very good shot stopper” – must wait for his turn.
“I don't want to rotate or play games with either of them,” said Vanney. “[Bono] has stepped in and he's done a good job. He deserves to play the next game.”
Having been thrust abruptly into the limelight, only to be welcomed by Kaka from the penalty spot in the dying seconds of his debut, Bono has no time for nerves.
“One of the most important things is giving your confidence to the rest of the team,” explained Bono with the air of a man well beyond his years. “I know the guys believe in me, they feel confident with me behind them, and they should. I want to exude confidence.”
“There's going to be big name players every team you play,” he continued. “There can't be any period where you fear anything. You have to go in, believe that you belong there, act like you belong there, and put your game on the line.... And, come out with three points.”