AMSTERDAM — With his contract set to expire at year's end, Sogndal 'keeper Joe Bendik isn't quite sure what will happen in 2012. But after the last two years in Norway, that may not be such a bad thing.
There have been both longer and stranger trips for American exports, but the story of Bendik's adventure since leaving Clemson University packs more than fair exposition value.
And now, after a tumultuous and educational two seasons abroad, the 22-year-old is currently chasing his first pro job back home.
"I'll be looking for trials in MLS," Bendik told MLSsoccer.com after arriving for offseason at home just outside Atlanta. "It's mostly my decision to leave, but I know [Sogndal] wanted to keep me around. I want to try some other options, closer [to home], and see what happens."
Though he's enjoyed his time at Sogndal, it hasn't exactly gone according to plan. Factors on and off the field have led him to make MLS his first option.
"It's a little bit of both, I guess," said Bendik. "They wanted me to sign a longer contract. I just didn't, right now, see myself being there that long.
"It was a great experience, but it kind of took its toll," he added. "There's a chance [I could go back to Norway]. I have a really good relationship with the goalkeeper coach [Terje Skjeldestad] here. He said if it doesn't work out in MLS, to give him a call and we'd figure something out, whether it was here or with another club."
The key moment came a couple of weeks ago, when the club inked veteran netminder Kenneth Udjus to a new deal. That effectively ended Bendik’s chance at being the No. 1 in net and left him right where he started at the beginning of the year.
Things were a lot rosier during his rookie season in 2010, when he started seven contests, including Sogndal's promotion-clinching victory.
"[Skjeldestad] is a workaholic and he took me from having the potential to seeing it,” Bendik said. “My range, my kicking, my accuracy; I really got a boost that year."
But so did Sogndal, which brought in reinforcements after they were promoted. Add in a nagging elbow injury for Bendik, and Udjus snagged the top spot early in the season and hasn’t let go.
"I had some bad luck," Bendik said. "I got an injury and it just didn't pan out. It wasn't that bad of an injury, but it got infected, basically. It put me out for a lot longer than I should have been."
Even though Bendik returned to start the final two games of the season (including the team’s win over champs Molde FK, which helped save them from relegation), he’s eager for a new challenge, wherever that may be.
"I haven't been able to set anything in stone, but I've talked to some teams," he said. "I'm pretty hopeful about it."