TORONTO – When Toronto FC acquired goalkeeper Joe Bendik from the Portland Timbers last December, most pundits considered him something of an afterthought.
The deal seemed most prominent for the allocation money Toronto received, and in the clear signal it sent with respect to the organization choosing 'keeper Stefan Frei as the team's anointed No. 1 shotstopper instead of the outgoing Milos Kocic.
Several months on from the trade, and it is Bendik who has established himself as Toronto's first-choice 'keeper via his fine play in TFC's first four matches.
The 23-year-old from Huntington, N.Y., hit the ground running with his new club, and has been rock solid since taking over between the sticks due to an injury Frei suffered in preseason play.
He is currently up for MLS Save of the Week for his diving stop on Mike Magee in Toronto's 2-2 draw with the defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy this past Saturday.
A fresh start appears to have been a very positive development for the 6-foot-3 goalkeeper, who was also quick to credit a fresh perspective on the TFC coaching staff with his strong play to date.
“It's been a new opportunity in a new place,” Bendik told MLSsoccer.com. “The 'keeper coach, Stewart Kerr, has had a lot to do with [my success]. He's changed my game a little bit. At first I was maybe a bit shocked when I learned of the trade. At the same time I was really excited for a new opportunity. I was kind of set as the No. 2 [in Portland] and that wasn't the position I wanted to be in.”
Even more so than outfield players, goalkeepers can often be saddled with a backup tag that can follow them wherever they go. Bendik believes there is really only one way for a 'keeper to get rid of that label.
“You get your opportunity and you take it. I had my place in Norway [with Sogndal] and then messed up and was injured. Then I didn't really get a full opportunity in Portland,” Bendik said. “Now I have had it here and I'm just kind of riding it.”
Bendik earned his first MLS win when Toronto defeated Sporting Kansas City in their home opener at the Rogers Centre on March 9, but he had not even been aware of that milestone until reporters mentioned it to him after the game.
“I didn't even know about it, to be honest. I had won elsewhere. I had won in the first division in Norway, so it wasn't like I hadn't won a game before,” Bendik said. “It was just extremely nice to win the home opener.”