TORONTO – Craig Forrest didn’t believe his eyes at first.
He couldn’t wait for the live TV broadcast to air the replay, so he pressed stop, then rewind, and then play on his PVR to make sure it actually happened. It did. Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono made a fantastic, fingertip save to deny Club America defender Paul Aguilar of a sure goal from in close.
After watching it over again, Forrest, a former Canadian national team goalkeeper who also played in the Premier League for Ipswich Town, Chelsea and West Ham United, immediately took to social media to post his thoughts on Bono’s robbery of Aguilar.
Bono’s incredible stop turned out to be a pivotal moment for TFC, which went on to earn a 1-1 draw against Club America at Mexico City’s iconic Estadio Azteca last week, and advance to the CONCACAF Champions League final. Looking back at it now, Forrest is just as amazed as he was when he saw it live that the Reds goalkeeper managed to tip away Aguilar’s powerful header off a sensational cross into the box from teammate Andres Ibarguen.
“I jumped out of my seat. I was like, ‘Hold on a minute. I gotta rewind that,’ because I had to see that again. It was a perfect setup by Club America: The pace of the cross, where [Ibarguen] put it, Aguilar’s positioning, the power of the header, perfect height, eight yards out and when Aguilar made contact with it Bono was a yard off his line. He hit into the ground with Bono moving over to his left and at full stretch, it was a sure goal,” Forrest marvelled.
Not only did Bono make a remarkable save on Aguilar, but he also didn’t give up a rebound. Instead, he managed to tip the ball to teammate Gregory van der Wiel who knocked it out for a throw in.
“I don’t know if that was his intention; maybe he was just trying to get a strong hand on it. But the fact he was able to play it out of danger, that made the save even more impressive,” Forrest explained.
“With the pace on the header, it would’ve been something for Bono to just get his finger tips on it, but there’s no way he could have kept it out. But he did! And not only that, he didn’t give up a rebound. It was perfect. Everything was perfect. I’ve watched it over and over again. Aguilar has to score there. But that was as good as it gets from a goalkeeper.”
Bono has demonstrated a genuine ability to come up big in big matches since earning his first MLS start in 2016. Remember the Reds’ run to last year’s MLS Cup final when he made a huge save in each playoff series? Oftentimes, he was the difference between a loss and a victory for Toronto.
Now, the 23-year-old product of Syracuse University is doing it against the very best Mexican teams. Forrest believes that Bono could be the key to TFC’s chances for success against Chivas Guadalajara in the Champions League final, which kicks off with Tuesday night’s first leg at BMO Field.
“He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He always seems to pull off a big save when he’s called upon. He’s been the difference for them many times, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is the difference versus Chivas,” Forrest said of Bono.
Widely regarded as the best goalkeeper Canada has ever produced, Forrest, now a commentator with Sportsnet, has been impressed with Bono’s quick rise to the top. Selected sixth overall by Toronto in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, Bono would have to wait until the following year to make his debut. After backing up veteran Clint Irwin during the 2016 season, he won the starter’s job last year, and played a starring role in the Reds’ historic campaign.
The mid-mannered Bono shows a lot of maturity for such a young goalkeeper, and for someone not far removed from the college ranks.
“He has a safe pair of hands, and he works well with his defenders. He has great command of the 18-yard box. Generally speaking, guys coming out of university aren’t as sharp as that. Usually you miss several good years of development when you play college soccer, but whoever worked with him in college, they obviously did a good job with him,” Forrest said.
It’s not just Bono’s shot stopping that Forrest has been impressed with – it’s the little things that most fans and media members don’t even take notice of with a goalkeeper.
“Goalkeeping it mostly about decision making, like when to come out for crosses. People seem to think that’s pretty standard, but it’s not and it’s so important. Where you start, your positioning, collecting, and holding on to it. That’s not highlight-reel stuff, but it’s so vital, and Bono does it all well,” Forrest said.
Bono’s stellar play over the last two seasons hasn’t gone unnoticed, as he was recently called up the U.S. national team for the first time in his career. Forrest believes that the TFC ‘keeper could have bigger and better things ahead of him, too.
“He has the potential to go wherever he wants to go, in Europe of wherever. He’s consistent. That’s the biggest thing with Premier League goalkeepers: consistency. If you can be consistent and a coach can look at you and think there’s never any issues, never any problems, you’re always reliable, always train hard, and make good decisions, that’s what they are looking for, and I think Bono gives you that,” Forrest offered.
The return match of this two-legged, aggregate CONCACAF final is slated for April 25 at Chivas’ Estadio Akron in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Defenders Chris Mavinga (lower body) and Gregory van der Wiel (Achilles), fullback Justin Morrow (calf), and forward Jozy Altidore (foot) trained on Monday after missing TFC’s 2-0 road loss to the Colorado Rapids on Saturday – Mavinga and Morrow have been sidelined for several weeks. All of them, though, should be available for selection for Tuesday’s tilt.
Influential TFC midfielder Victor Vazquez continues to deal with a nerve issue in his back. He’ll be further assessed before a decision is to made as to whether he’ll play in the first leg.
Defender Nick Hagglund remains out with a long-term hamstring strain.
Mexican teams have won every single CONCACAF Champions League since the inaugural tournament in 2008. Only two non-Mexican teams have ever made it to the final: Real Salt Lake in 2011 and the Montreal Impact in 2015.
TFC has extra incentive to win this tournament. The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup, an annual competition featuring the six continental club champions, including the winners of the UEFA Champions League. The 2018 FIFA Club World Cup is schedule for Dec. 12-22 in the United Arab Emirates.