TFC notebook: Big goalkeeper decision looms


(Mark Blinch/CP)

Toronto FC was back in training on Wednesday ahead of its home game against the Philadelphia Union this weekend.

Here are some news and notes from today’s practice at the club’s training facility in Downsview.

Playoff berth: MLS giveth, and it taketh away from TFC
Major League Soccer confirmed on Monday that Toronto FC hasn’t clinched a playoff berth after declaring the Canadian club did this past weekend.

In the buildup to Sunday’s game between Toronto and the New York Red Bulls, MLS sent out a press release detailing all the playoff scenarios, including information (which later turned out to be wrong) that TFC could officially clinch with a draw if two other results earlier in the weekend occurred.

After Jozy Altidore scored two second-half goals to help the home side earn a come-from-behind 3-3 draw against the Red Bulls, both MLS and Toronto FC announced that the team booked a spot in the playoffs. But it turns out that is incorrect, as the league confirmed on Monday that Toronto has not yet officially clinched. There was no immediate word on how the miscalculation happened on the league’s part.

For all intents and purposes TFC has qualified for the playoffs, as it would take nearly two dozen results to go against them between now and the end of the regular season in order for them to miss the post-season.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney brushed off the league’s mistake, and said it hasn’t even been a topic of discussion amongst him, his staff and the players since Sunday.

“It is what it is. It doesn’t change anything. We have five games left and big goals to try to achieve [including] winning the East. Just making it into the playoffs has not been our number one objective,” Vanney offered.

Goalkeeper Alex Bono added: “Clinching a playoff spot was never the end goal—we were always [focused] on more than that. At first we thought we clinched, but it didn’t really change our mindset. And then we found out that we hadn’t [clinched] quite yet and our mindset still didn’t change. So for us, nothing changes going forward.”

Decision looming over Bono and Irwin
At some point Clint Irwin will get his chance to play again. That much is clear.

Two questions remain, though: 1) when will he get the chance to start in net for the Reds, and 2) will he retain his spot as the club’s starting goalkeeper once he’s back in the lineup?

An injury forced Irwin out of the TFC lineup back in late June. He is healthy again, but Vanney has continued to go with Bono—and for good reason—with Irwin serving as the backup for the last two MLS games.

Bono and Irwin have each appeared in 15 MLS matches this year. Toronto sports an 8-2-4 with Bono as a starter since Irwin suffered a quadriceps strain on June 25 in Orlando. Irwin has played 1,330 minutes in MLS, making 43 saves. Bono has played 1,280 minutes and made 39 saves. Irwin has six shutouts compared to Bono’s three.

Vanney recently hinted that Irwin will soon be back in net. Toronto hosts Philadelphia on Saturday, the first of three games in a week for the Reds, so don’t be surprised if Irwin starts one of those matches.

“For me, Clint was our starting goalkeeper coming into the year. He got injured. [It] doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not our starting goalkeeper,” Vanney said Sunday’s game against New York.

As far as who’ll be the starter in the playoffs, Vanney wasn’t tipping his hand.

“Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be determining in which direction we’ll want to go,” Vanney said. “Either way, Clint’s going to get some runs, just to make sure that as we go into this final stretch and into the playoffs that we know we’ve got two goalkeepers that are sharp and ready to go. We’ll make our decision when the time comes.”

Bono remains philosophical about the entire situation, and understands that all he can do is play his best when called upon in order to give his coach something to think about.

“I knew when [Clint] went down that there’d be a time when he’d come back to full health. My goal from the moment I was first put in to the moment of whenever I’m taken out, if I am taken out, is to make the decision [for Vanney] as difficult as possible,” Bono stated.

He later added: “Clint is a very good goalkeeper; he’s a great guy and I have the utmost respect for him. You could argue for the first half of the season that he was one of, if not our best player.”

Bono artfully deflected when asked directly if he should keep starting in net for Toronto.

“As a competitor, everyone has the mindset that they should [start]. … At the end of the day, that decision is out of my hands,” Bono said.

Giovinco’s status, other injury updates
Top scorer Sebastian Giovinco only took part in a portion of Wednesday’s practice as he’s still dealing with an injury—he suffered strains in his quadriceps and adductor during the Reds’ 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact in late August.

The Italian has missed the team’s last two games, and at the moment he remains questionable for Saturday’s match. Vanney said he will assess Giovinco’s progress in training over Thursday and Friday before deciding whether he can play this weekend.

“He’s trending in the right direction,” Vanney stated.

Canadian forward Tosaint Ricketts also remains questionable for this weekend after picking up a groin injury in Toronto’s 2-1 win away to the Chicago Fire earlier this month. Ricketts didn’t play against New York.

Canadian midfielder Jay Chapman is still out due to an MCL tear. Although he is progressing, Vanney said he is unlikely to play on Saturday. Chapman has sat out the last three games.

Mark Bloom is available for action again after dealing with an ankle injury. The defender’s last appearance for the Reds came on Aug. 14 in a 1-1 draw away to the Houston Dynamo.

Defender Josh Williams, who has missed the last three matches with a hamstring problem, is working his way back into full training and could be available to play against Philadelphia.

Canadian defender Ashtone Morgan remains out long-term with a stress fracture in his foot.

Looking ahead to Saturday
Philadelphia (11-11-8) sits fourth in the Eastern Conference, three spots and six points behind Toronto (13-8-8). Philadelphia is coming off a 2-1 road loss to the Portland Timbers last week.

Forward Chris Pontius is the Union’s top scorer this season (11), and Fabian Herbers leads the team in assists with six.

Toronto sports a 6-6-4 all-time record in MLS against Philadelphia. This is the second and final regular season meeting between these clubs—Toronto won 3-1 in Philadelphia last month. All three goals TFC scored in the game (by Giovinco, Altidore and Drew Moor) were nominated for the MLS goal of the week award.

“It’d be nice if we could get those types of calibre goals again,” Toronto defender Steven Beitashour quipped.

After Saturday, TFC continues its four-game stint at BMO Field with matches against Orlando City (Sept. 28) and D.C. United (Oct. 1). The Reds then travel to Montreal to take on the Impact on Oct. 16, before wrapping up the regular season at home on Oct. 23 vs. the Chicago Fire.


Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast (featuring James Sharman, Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop and John Molinaro) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues.

Listen now | iTunes | Podcatchers

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.