After losing starting job, Toronto FC’s Alex Bono finally gets a chance to play

TORONTO — Alex Bono isn’t quite sure why he lost his job as starting goalkeeper for Toronto FC. And it’s clear some three months later that emotions are still raw on the subject.

Difficult, disappointing, discouraging and frustrating are some of the words the 25-year-old Bono uses to sum up the current situation.

Bono, who started the season as No. 1, played six of the first nine games of the 2019 MLS campaign. Veteran Quentin Westberg, who joined TFC in February after a long career in France, has started the last 15.

“Obviously there’s shock value to it when it comes and it first hits you,” Bono said Monday of his drop down the pecking order.

Bono, who last played May 8, will get another chance Wednesday as coach Greg Vanney revamps his roster for the semifinals of the Canadian Championship against the USL’s Ottawa Fury FC.

He can’t wait.

“My head space is as good as it’s ever been, oddly enough,” Bono said with a smile. “I’m really confident and comfortable with where my game’s at right now.”

He declined to detail the discussions he had with Vanney about his job.

“He’s the coach. He’s the one who makes decisions. And I’m a player. I’m the one that has to follow them. So it’s not my job to like every decision. It’s not my job to be content and OK with every decision. But it is my job to play the role that I’m cast to play and for the last few weeks, it’s been the second guy.”

Toronto was 3-0-1 to start the season with Bono in goal. But after a 2-2 tie with visiting Chicago Fire that saw Bono stranded in no-man’s land on a C.J. Sapong goal (after a Toronto giveaway farther up the field), Westberg was given the start in Seattle.

Bono got the next game against Minnesota before Westberg started against Portland and Orlando. Vanney went back to Bono for a 2-0 loss in Atlanta then handed the reins to the 33-year-old Westberg.

“They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Bono, an acrobatic shot-stopper. “That’s not a decision I make as a player. It’s my job to go out there and play the cards that I’m dealt.

“Obviously I think it’s very unfair to say that either of us are responsible for the results of the team in general.”

Vanney was diplomatic when asked about Bono, saying he understands his frustration.

“As best as he can he’s been a true pro (and) working on his game,” Vanney said.

But the coach said his goalkeeper choice is all part of finding “the right formula for what we want our game to look like and how we think we can be successful.”

Westberg has experience, is better at distributing the ball and is a solid shot-stopper who rarely makes a mistake. He also communicates well with his backline.

TFC’s history in handling goalkeepers has been spotty. You can add Bono to a list that includes Milos Kocic, Stefan Frei, Joe Bendik, Chris Konopka and Clint Irwin as ‘keepers who could make a case for being hard done by here.

Vanney has been smooth, however, when it comes to marshalling his goalkeepers. He engineered a change in 2017 from Irwin to Bono with hardly a ripple. And the transition from Bono to Westberg has been equally slick, although Bono clearly has his own thoughts on the matter.

Westberg’s record this season is 5-9-4 in league play, compared to 4-1-1 for Bono, who appeared in 72 regular-season games for Toronto in 2015-17.

Bono was handed a new contract in July 2018 and is making US$382,000 this season, according to the MLS Players Association.

“His brightest years are still very much ahead of him,” Vanney said at the time.

Westberg is earning US$115,254 this year.

Bono said right now he is just thinking about Wednesday and focusing on his day-to-day training. But if he continues to languish on the bench, he may be forced to consider the future.

“It’s something I have to evaluate at the end of the season. It’s not something that I’ve thought about really at all. … You’ve got to cross that bridge when you get to it. The more you worry about that during the season, while you’re playing, while you’re not playing, the more that clouds your mindset.”

The first signs of a possible change came last season.

Bono had 10 shutouts during Toronto’s 2017 championship year. His record dropped to three last year when TFC’s goals against ballooned to 64, compared to 37 in 2017.

Bono saw mistakes mount playing behind a porous oft-injured defence.

In July 2018, a Kemar Lawrence shot from outside the penalty box went through traffic and then Bono in a 1-0 Red Bulls win in Toronto. TFC limited New York to just two shots on target and still lost.

There was a virtual repeat of that goal the next month in a 3-2 loss to visiting New York City FC. And then he spilled a Chris Wondolowski shot that turned into the equalizer in a 1-1 tie with San Jose.

Vanney gave him a two-game break in late August, early September. The decision came after a 3-1 win over Montreal on Aug. 25 that saw Bono beaten on an Ignacio Piatti attack that fortunately was called offside.

“For me that one was just the icing on the cake, that I can’t take it any more, I need to do something to get myself out of it,” Bono said at the time.

Vanney’s decision to sit him briefly last season came around an international break, during which he was with the U.S. national team. Bono said that change of scenery helped his reset.

He started the final seven games of the season, posting a 3-4-0 record.

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