Here are some news and notes from Tuesday’s practice at the club’s training facility in Downsview.
TFC confirmed earlier this week that starting goalkeeper Clint Irwin sustained a hamstring strain in the 0-0 draw against Sporting Kansas City during last Friday’s home opener, and that he will be out of action for four to five weeks. Backup Alex Bono replaced Irwin in the 40th minute vs. KC. With Irwin out, Bono will take over as the club’s starter, a role he served with aplomb last season.
Irwin, who turned 28 on Saturday, was the Reds’ starter for the majority of the 2016 campaign and all through the playoffs, posting a combined record of 10 wins, five losses and five draws. A mid-season injury ruled him out for close to three months, allowing Bono to take over as the No. 1 ‘keeper. Bono, 23, appeared in 16 games in his first MLS season in 2016, with eight wins, three losses and five draws.
Coach Greg Vanney bemoaned the loss of Irwin, but his disappointment is tempered by his belief that Bono is more than capable of filling in as the club’s chief shot stopper.
“The good part of it is that Alex is [a proven goalkeeper]. He did a nice job last year and in the two games he’s played this year. He’ll have to step up again, and I think he’s ready for it. We’re not too concerned,” Vanney told reporters after practice.
Last week, Vanney said he planned to rotate both goalkeepers early on in the campaign in order to keep them sharp, but his hand has been forced with the injury to Irwin. Bono isn’t the least bit phased by being thrust into the No. 1 role.
“I’ve been down this road before. I know how to handle it,” Bono affirmed. “There’s nothing that can prepare you for what you’ll face in an MLS game. The only way to prepare for that is going out and doing it, so last year was awesome to get that experience.”
JUSTIN MORROW INJURY UPDATE
Left fullback Justin Morrow sat out the game against Kansas City with a heel injury. It was the first match the perennial starter missed since last August, and only the ninth he sat out since joining the Reds in 2014. Morrow worked out on his own on Tuesday and should be back in training on Wednesday. The hope is that he’ll be available for selection against Atlanta.
“As long as he keeps taking steps forward he’ll be ready by the weekend,” Vanney confirmed.
After sitting out the entire season thus far while recovering from foot surgery, Canadian defender Ashtone Morgan could return to full training very soon.
“He’s getting close. Hopefully he’ll be back into [the full swing] in the next week or so,” Vanney said.
RAHEEM EDWARDS STILL RIDING HIGH
Morrow’s injury allowed Canadian Raheem Edwards to make his first MLS start for TFC. Edwards, a 21-year-old native of Toronto, impressed with his quickness down the left flank, and he played a key role in sparking the Reds’ attack against KC.
His efforts didn’t go unnoticed by veteran defender Drew Moor, who said after the game that Edwards was one of TFC’s best players on the night. Edwards was also named a bench player on the MLS Team of the Week.
“I’m still riding a bit of an emotional high from Friday,” Edwards admitted in a one-on-one interview with Sportsnet.
“Drew saying that about me is huge because he is such an experienced guy in MLS. For him to say that about me is truly humbling.”
Showing consistency when called upon will be important for the young Canadian if he is to gain regular playing time.
“He’s had a couple of good outings for sure. But it’s about [being] able to play at that level, to continue to grow from that level, and do it every single week. That’s the question he’ll have to answer,” Vanney stated.
MARK PAIS SIGNS WITH FIRST TEAM
Irwin’s injury is good news for Mark Pais.
Pais, 25, originally signed with TFC 2, the club’s farm team in the second-tier USL prior to the start of the 2017 MLS season. But Irwin’s injury left the Reds without a backup option. On Tuesday, Toronto FC announced it had signed Pais to a senior-team contract.
“He’s got a nice presence about him behind the [defence]. He’s not afraid to communicate, he’s not afraid to tell guys what to do in the right moments. He’s got good size [six-foot-four, 200 pounds] …. he doesn’t take risks when balls are played to his feet,” Vanney said.
Before coming to Toronto, Pais spent two seasons with Saint Louis FC in the USL. Prior to that, he played NCAA soccer with University of Tulsa and Saint Louis University. He appeared in two games for TFC 2 this year, including this past weekend.
Under normal circumstances Pais’ head would be spinning after how quickly his entry into MLS came together. But the fact he’s been with the first team since pre-season training camp in Florida in February has meant the transition has been pretty seamless.
“I came into camp with high expectations from them, regardless of which team [TFC 2 or Toronto FC] I was going to sign with,” Pais said.
Pais was on trial for the Charleston Battery of the USL for two days when he received a call from Toronto FC to join them in Orlando.
“It was totally out of nowhere, but I was pretty stoked to hop on a plane and get down there with them. I had a good two weeks with them, and the rest is history,” Pais said.
MLS rules stipulate that teams can’t simply call up players from their farm clubs—they have to be signed to the senior team in order to appear in an MLS match.
QUICK LOOK AHEAD TO FRIDAY
Saturday marks the first ever contest between Toronto FC and the expansion Atlanta United FC.
After losing its season opener, Atlanta has gone unbeaten in its last three games (two wins and a draw), including last week’s 0-0 stalemate with the MLS Cup champion Sounders in Seattle. Atlanta features former TFC defender Mark Bloom—he has yet to make an appearance for his new team this season.
Atlanta will be without Venezuelan forward and top scorer Josef Martinez (five goals in three games) as he’s been ruled out for several weeks with a quad injury.
“They are very committed to getting [bodies] behind the ball. They will step out and press you if you give them the cues. If you don’t give them those cues they won’t necessarily go chasing around haphazardly around the field and get opened up,” Vanney explained.
“They are a good possession-oriented team. They are very dangerous on the counterattack, but [that means] they are able to get deep into your half of the field and then they’ll re-press you and try to sustain attacks.”
TFC visits the Columbus Crew on April 15, and then returns home for three consecutive home games vs. the Chicago Fire (April 21), Houston Dynamo (April 28) and Orlando City (May 3).