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Alex Bono gets shot at Toronto FC starter’s job as Clint Irwin suffers hamstring strain

The 22-year-old is in line for another stretch of games to stake his claim for a permanent place in the team.

MLS: Sporting KC at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The news isn’t as bad as it could have been for Clint Irwin, but the four to five weeks the goalkeeper will miss with a hamstring strain could still be enough to change the course of Toronto FC’s season.

The biggest positive, first of all, is that Irwin has suffered a seemingly straightforward muscle injury and has not damaged his knee, as was a concern when he caught his left foot in the turf and went down in agony in the first half of the Reds’ 0-0 draw with Sporting Kansas City. He will be out for a month or so before maybe needing a couple more weeks to build up his fitness, but his season is not under threat.

His status as Toronto’s No. 1 goalkeeper, however, might be. Bono made 16 appearances last season and already has two under his belt this term, and will be the starter for at least the next five games while Irwin is out. There is every chance he could add three or four more after that to his tally as Irwin is eased back in during May.

MLS: Toronto FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

What happens after that will depend on Bono’s play, but the 22-year-old is building an impressive resume. A disastrous error against the nine-man San Jose Earthquakes aside, he played very well in Irwin’s absence last year and is yet to concede a goal in 140 minutes of play in 2017. Against Sporting KC, he made a number of timely saves as the visitors threatened to sucker-punch TFC with a goal on the counter-attack.

Last season, Irwin’s return to the lineup after his injury was always likely; the 27-year-old is the more experienced head, had played very well prior to being sidelined and was the safe pick for Greg Vanney as the team entered the playoffs.

This year, however, his injury has come much earlier in the campaign and Bono is a year older and wiser. Irwin will undoubtedly get games when he returns, but if Bono excels over the next month or so it will be almost impossible for Vanney to justify going back to the former Colorado Rapids man as the full-time starter.