With Bono away, Clint Irwin gets the start in goal for Toronto FC


Clint Irwin. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Toronto FC has had its share of goalkeeper controversies in the past, but not these days.

When Alex Bono gradually took over in 2017, former No. 1 Clint Irwin moved a step back gracefully. It helped make for a smooth transition.

"That’s a credit to the character of the guys involved," said Toronto coach Greg Vanney. "Clint is a first-class guy and, to me, a capable starter in this league."

With starter Alex Bono away on U.S. national team duty, the 29-year-old Irwin will be front and centre Friday night as Toronto FC hosts FC Dallas.

"It’s a good opportunity for us to get Clint in the goal," said Vanney. "He’s been really sharp in training … I look forward to him getting a chance. I think he’s deserving of it and worthy of it."

Irwin, who came to Toronto from Colorado prior to the 2016 season, started games against Colorado, Real Salt Lake and Houston earlier this year as TFC juggled both league and CONCACAF Champions League play.

Irwin’s grace in the face of a changing depth chart has been commendable.

"I want to play every game, that’s no secret," said the Charlotte native, an MLS all-star in 2015. "There’s a lot of guys with that attitude here. But what we’ve done a good job of is directing that sort of energy all into a common purpose."

He credits his parents for showing him how to handle difficulties. In the past, he has also seen his share of players not handle hardship well.

"You see how that affects the team," he said. "I just don’t want to be a guy who is a drag on the team. If you want this thing to move forward, you need everyone rowing in the right direction. And no matter what your personal situation is, it’s important that you’re doing everything you can to help the team.

"That manifests itself in a lot of different ways. I think one of the ways is just bringing your best every day and letting the coach make decisions. Because all you can really control is your performance."

Irwin fought hard to make it to MLS. Back in 2011, he was making $500 a month and living in a four-bedroom, one-bathroom house with eight others while playing for Capital City FC, a now-defunct Ottawa team that lasted one year in the Canadian Soccer League.

Irwin landed in Ottawa after a stellar collegiate career at Elon University and a number of failed pro tryouts. He went on to play for the USL Charlotte Eagles before landing in Colorado in early 2013.

Today, Irwin serves as TFC’s union rep and sits on the seven-person MLS Players Association executive board. He has also written pieces for Sports Illustrated and the Guardian on athletes and sport and watches the political scene south of the border closely.

Engaged in December, Irwin and his fiancee enjoy life in Toronto. But he is in essentially a contract year with TFC with options that can be declined. His salary is US $221,300 this season, compared to $102,200 for the 24-year-old Bono.

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