TORONTO – With a clean sheet on Tuesday in Ohio, Alex Bono made it a third-straight match where he has been decisive in the outcome.
Throughout the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, Toronto FC have conceded two goals: one a penalty kick, the other a massive deflection.
In each match, goalkeeper Bono has come up big for his side.
In the first leg against the New York Red Bulls, it was a last-gasp back-post header from Kemar Lawrence that Bono denied to retain the crucial 2-1 lead.
In the second leg, he was quick off his line to smother the best chance that the ever-dangerous Bradley Wright-Phillips saw on the day, getting a leg to what would have been the game-winning goal for New York.
And against Columbus Crew SC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Finals, it was Harrison Afful who the 23-year old keeper stymied to ensure Toronto brought home a 0-0 draw.
“We tried to get a clearance out, it dribbled right to him, he was able to take a touch,” recalled Bono post-match. “At that point, you're just hoping that it is somewhere around you and you can make a reaction on it.”
React he did, getting a big paw to the effort, then came his teammates, specifically Raheem Edwards and Eriq Zavaleta, who got in front of any follow-up attempts to relieve the pressure.
“Moments like those are going to come in matches,” added Bono. “I thought as a whole we defended really well. They didn’t really have any solid opportunities other than that.”
His teammates were full of praise.
“That’s normal,” said Jonathan Osorio post-match. “He’s been there for us all season and I wouldn’t expect him to not make a big save.”
Said Nicolas Hasler on Thursday: “Bones had an amazing day.”
With each subsequent game becoming the biggest of his young career, Bono is taking success in stride.
“I’m becoming more and more comfortable every time I step on the field as the games get bigger,” said Bono. “I’m just trying to enjoy every moment of it, to have fun. And for the most part, I had a lot of fun today. We put in a really solid performance.”
Confidence, a key in such situations, is a two-way street for a keeper.
“Alex has a ton of confidence, both in himself and in the group around him,” explained head coach Greg Vanney on Thursday. “The group has confidence in Alex.”
And keeping the ball out of the net, as Bono himself often says, is a team effort.
“The big thing for our guys is that they really take protecting the goal [seriously],” continued Vanney. “Alex makes the save, the ball is still siting there, [and] guys are flying in front of it to block it. They understand the value of every opportunity and every goal. Our goal is to give up nothing. They work very hard to do that.”
Where many a young keeper would wilt under the spotlight, Bono has thrived when the stakes are highest.
“His maturity has shown,” added Vanney. “Emotionally, the [playoffs are] a little different; this feeling of more riding on the day. Alex has been able to manage that emotion and come up with the big save when he needs [to]. In playoff games, especially on the road, your goalkeeper is going to have to come up with something.”
That timeliness is something Steven Beitashour zeroed in on as well.
“He's not asked to make a ton of saves... in some sense that is harder,” said Beitashour. “When he is asked, he's there and he's ready. He didn't have much to do for 80-something minutes, then all of a sudden he's one-vs-one with Afful and he makes a great save. The guys around were ready to react and get the next block.”
With the second leg on Wednesday set to determine who will play in the MLS Cup Final, it will be on the rest of the team to match his contributions.
Added Beitashour: “We're going to need everyone to make a play like that, not just Bono.”