The final piece of the Toronto FC offseason backline remodel is in place with the arrival of goalkeeper Clint Irwin via a trade with the Colorado Rapids. He appeared 92 times over his three seasons in the mile high city.
The Charlotte native is no stranger to Canada. He kicked off his professional career in the Canadian Soccer League with Capital City (Ottawa) back in 2011. Irwin told reporters in a Tuesday conference call that he was grateful to have the opportunity to play in Ottawa at that time and just as grateful to have the opportunity to make the move to Toronto now.
The preseason will be critical for the development of chemistry at the back that TFC management deemed to be lacking last season. Fortunately, when Irwin steps between the sticks in Toronto kit, he’ll see the familiar face of defender Drew Moor, who bolted from Colorado for Toronto in December as a free agent. Irwin and Moor have spoken to each other since the trade and are excited to be reuniting with Toronto FC.
"He was one of my favourite teammates in Colorado, so I was pretty disappointed when he left, but now to be reunited with him is pretty awesome. It will help to make the transition a little bit smoother."
Irwin admitted that the conversation focused mainly on TFC and Drew’s experience so far with what he characterized as a "first class organization".
Will Clint Irwin be an upgrade over Joe Bendik and Chris Konopka? A true answer to that question won’t become clear until well into the 2016 season. Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has his fingers crossed that Irwin will be able to provide better results than those turned in by Bendik and Konopka last season. When Bezbatchenko was grilled about whether Irwin will be an upgrade over last year, he artfully danced around the question.
"I want to be fair to Chris and Joe who served this club and served it well. They’re good goalkeepers in their own rite. We felt we needed to change directions. It had to do with the chemistry of the backline. Something was off last year."
Bezbatchenko feels that the defensive group, the backline, defensive midfield and goalkeeping positions all needed a fresh start. The additions of Moor, Beitashour, Johnson and now Irwin offer TFC that fresh start.
Empirically, a quick glance at the stats would paint a very clear picture that Irwin is not just a change of direction, he is a massive upgrade. In 31 appearances last year for the Rapids he conceded only 38 goals. It doesn’t take a math major to figure out that the average is just a shade over a goal a game.
By comparison, Bendik conceded an average of more than two goals a game, picking the ball out of the back of the net 27 timesin 13 games. Konopka wasn’t much better, allowing 31 goals in 21 appearances. It should be cautioned that the goals allowed by Toronto keepers in 2015 are not entirely a reflection on their play, but on just how poorly the reds defended as a group last year. Whether Irwin would have fared any better, we’ll never know.
The arrival of Clint Irwin most certainly puts to rest any ideathat Quillan Roberts or Alex Bono would be thrust into the limelight as the starting keeper for TFC in 2016.
However, Bezbatchenko made it clear that he has no plans to bring in a backup goalkeeper at this point in time. Team management is happy to let Roberts and Bono compete for the backup job this season.
Bezbatchenko seems quite confident with the group that he has assembled this offseason to address the defensive issues that plagued Toronto FC throughout the 2015 campaign. He in essence ruled out any further major moves ahead of training camp, which starts in just a few days.
"Right now, we’re pretty much done for the time being, but we’re always looking to improve."
Bezbatchenko will keep a close eye on the chemistry with the defensive group that he’s assembled this offseason. This is a talented group that should be a significant improvement over the group that staggered and stumbled through 2015, but the general manager is well aware that there are no guarantees. If this experiment doesn’t work, Bezbatchenko will go back to work as a football chemist in order to find the formula that produces wins on the pitch.