TORONTO — Once again, Toronto FC's goal is in Alex Bono's hands.
The 23-year-old Bono, who made 16 appearances last season, will be Toronto FC's No. 1 for at least the next four to five weeks after starter Clint Irwin was diagnosed with a hamstring strain.
Irwin went down clutching his leg in the 37th minute of Friday's 0-0 tie with Sporting Kansas City when his left foot jammed in the wet BMO Field turf as he came out to make a save. Irwin, who was able to walk off gingerly in giving way to Bono, underwent an MRI after the game.
"Appreciate all the well wishes and support. Nothing too serious, thankfully!" Irwin said via Twitter.
The injury timeline of four to five weeks covers five to six league games but things get busy after that. Toronto plays four times in April and six times in May, with four of those games in the first half of the month.
Mark Pais (pronounced Pays), the Toronto FC 2 'keeper, is expected to serve as Bono's backup.
While Irwin's talents and low-maintenance character are appreciated by the MLS club, Toronto has plenty of confidence in Bono, who is seen as a future No. 1. The sixth overall pick in the 2015 SuperDraft was given the start over a healthy Irwin in Vancouver two weeks ago because coach Greg Vanney wanted to give Bono some minutes.
That decision now seems prescient.
"Obviously the last game against Vancouver helped a lot — just getting 90 minutes under my belt there," Bono said after the game Friday. "Coming in here felt natural, I knew exactly what I was sent out to do."
Bono has yet to give up a goal in 140 minutes this season.
"Bones is big," defender Drew Moor said of Bono. "I feel for Clint ... You hate to see a goalie have to be subbed off but we have a lot of confidence in both our 'keepers. (Bono) came up with the saves that we really needed him to (make) tonight."
Bono got a close-up view of the injury. He and Toronto's other substitutes were just behind Irwin's goal when the incident occurred.
"It's tough especially when the subs warming up we were right there and it was an awkward injury," he said.
The 28-year-old Irwin missed 14 games last season after suffering a quadricep strain on a routine goal kick in a loss to Orlando on June 25. He returned to action Sept. 24 against Philadelphia.
In all, Irwin started 19 regular-season games in 2016 while Bono started 15. Irwin, who was in goal for six playoff matches, finished the year with a 10-7-7 record and nine shutouts.
Toronto rewarded Irwin with a new contract in February, giving him a two-year deal with an option that replaces the contract that paid him US$107,625 last season.
Toronto (1-0-3) is back in action Saturday when it hosts expansion Atlanta United (2-1-1). Irwin briefly belonged to Atlanta after being taken in the December expansion draft but was traded back to Toronto several hours later.
Toronto originally acquired the 28-year-old Charlotte native in a January 2016 trade with the Colorado Rapids.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press