TORONTO – Who says you can’t play two goalkeepers if both of them are good enough to start?
Usually Greg Vanney is the one standing directly in the media’s fire line. But Toronto FC’s coach turned the tables on the press horde when he was quizzed about the team’s goalkeeping situation ahead of the Reds’ home opener on Friday against Sporting Kansas City.
After starting Clint Irwin in the first two games of the Major League Soccer season, Vanney went with Alex Bono in net the last time out, raising questions as to who’ll start against Kansas City. Vanney confirmed that he’s already made that decision, and that he’s settled on who his No. 1 goalkeeper is at the moment, but he didn’t tip his hand.
“There may or may not come a time in the future when I’ll have to make a decision, but right now I have a good sense of a plan that I’m working towards,” Vanney stated.
That plan involves giving both Irwin and Bono opportunities to play early on in the season in order to keep them sharp and competing against each other—although he admitted that “there will be a time and a place where for sure we’ll have to say this is the guy we’re going with.”
“I don’t think we need to jump to any real conclusions in the first three to five games of the year. Decisions will be made accordingly as we move into the latter part of the middle of the year,” Vanney explained.
In the interim, Vanney is keen to give both of his shot-stoppers some reps early on the campaign, and he doesn’t think that’s the least bit controversial.
“We want to keep both of them going. I don’t know where in the soccer rule book it says you have to have a primary goalkeeper who plays every single game of the year,” Vanney said.
“We have two good goalkeepers. It’s early in the season, and I want to keep both of them sharp and I want to keep them competing a little bit.”
Irwin, 27, was the Reds’ starter for the majority of the 2016 season 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, 22, appeared in 16 games in his first MLS season in 2016, with eight wins, three losses and five draws.
“You see a lot of teams … they have a clear number one and there’s a big drop to number two. For us, we feel like we have two guys who are capable of playing and both of them should get their time,” Vanney said.
How do Irwin and Bono feel about the situation?
“Clint is a very good goalkeeper, and I have the utmost respect for him, both as a player and as a person. I believe we’re in a very good situation with our goalkeeper spot. Whatever Greg decides to do in terms of when and who plays, I’m cool with it,” Bono offered.
Irwin appears on board with Vanney’s plans, pointing out that the club’s schedule will get very busy over the next three months, and especially in May and June when the Canadian club championship is in full swing.
“When you look at the amount of games that we’re starting to play, and with the Canadian Cup matches, there’s going to be ample amount of opportunities for both of us. As we saw last year, you never know what can happen in the season,” Irwin said.
“You have to trust in the plan that Greg has put together. Every single player wants to play every single minute of every single game. I’m no different. But I defer to Greg.”
Both Bono and Irwin maintain that the rotational system Vanney plans to use early on won’t affect their training methods or their mental game.
“For every match, I prepare as though I’m going to start. … No matter what happens, I try to go into it with the same level of competition, same level of focus, same level of readiness as if I was starting,” Bono said.
Repetition is key for goalkeepers to stay in a groove, but Irwin believes sitting out the odd game shouldn’t disrupt his natural rhythm.
“Game rhythm is a little bit different, in terms of your decision making and the situations you find yourself in, compared to training. But it only becomes an issue when or if you’re out for a month or two months. A week here or there on the bench doesn’t throw you off of our rhythm,” Irwin said.
Vanney confirmed that star forward Sebastian Giovinco is fully fit and available for selection against Kansas City.
“Zero chance,” Vanney responded when asked by Sportsnet if there was any chance the Italian would miss the game.
Giovinco sat out the Reds’ last game in Vancouver on March 18 after picking up a leg injury in TFC’s 2-2 draw away to Philadelphia the previous week. Toronto was off last week due to the international break, which helped Giovinco in his recovery.
“I think [the bye week] was huge,” Vanney said. “Because of the contusion he was able to take a step back and go back to Italy and see the physician he tends to see every few months. I think it’s a good trip for him in a lot of ways.
“It gave us a couple of weeks to really push him fitness-wise once he was feeling better and motivated as ever. I think it was a good break for him and kind of for the group as well to take a step back from those first three games, take in some information and try to move forward.”