ORLANDO, Fla. – Now that he's gotten his first few training sessions under his belt, Joe Bendik knows he is in for some serious competition to get the starting goalkeeper’s role at Orlando City SC.
The 26-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, was an offseason signing from Toronto FC and has been reunited with his former Reds coach Stewart Kerr in Central Florida.
Bendik is the only one of Orlando's three 'keepers with MLS experience, with Tally Hall having been released at the end of last season. But he is aware he can take nothing for granted once the new campaign kicks off on March 6, as he competes for the No. 1 spot with City’s promising 2015 draftee Earl Edwards Jr.
Bendik has quickly got to know Edwards, and vice versa, and the duo were the last to finish Monday’s training session as they labored under the watchful eye of Kerr.
“It’s important to have that competition within the team,” Bendik added. “Earl and I have already established a good relationship and it will be important that we push each other every day in training.
“It’s certainly good to have Stewart here – I had a really good relationship with him at Toronto – but it doesn’t mean anything in terms of who starts. We have already talked about it and, for me, this is all about getting a fresh start and just going to work each day.”
Head coach Adrian Heath confirmed Bendik will get the initial chance to make the position his own, but is leaving the door open for Edwards to change the coaching staff’s minds in the next few weeks leading up to the season opener vs. Real Salt Lake.
“I expect Joe will start No. 1,” Heath said, “unless Earl has a fantastic preseason and beats Joe out through his performances. But either way, I think Orlando City is in great hands for the next few years with our goalkeeping talent.
“I was really pleased to bring in Stewart, which is one of the moves I wanted to make in the offseason. He has a great reputation with young goalkeepers and, when I spoke to him about the job, he said he had worked well with Joe for the last two or three years, so we knew what we were getting.”
Bendik says he has already seen everything he needs to believe he is stepping from one playoff team to another after three years in Toronto.
“Getting to the playoffs was always the task in Toronto, and we achieved that last year,” Bendik explained. “From what I have seen so far, this club has all the capabilities, too. There are some really talented players and it feels like a special team.
“I know they struggled during the middle part of last season, but towards the end they left it all out there and showed their true character. I think that scared a few other teams, and I’m looking forward to being part of that this year.”
- Find more Lions preseason coverage at OrlandoCitySC.com
Bendik was delighted to link up again with Scottish coach Kerr, who joined Orlando at the beginning of the year after four years with TFC. Kerr had a major role in ensuring Bendik ended up in Florida in 2016.
“Stewart definitely reached out to me and talked about the opportunity here,” Bendik added. “I thought it was a great idea to work with someone I already knew and it has made the transition really easy so far.”
Heath was pleased to see his squad come together again with only minimal general fitness work necessary to get back up to speed again. And, unlike a year ago, he now knows most of his players.
“When you have 25 new players, it takes time trying to find what makes them tick and how well they work together,” explained the Lions boss. “Now, it is totally different as we all have a good understanding of each other and what it takes to get on the same page. It is a very different feeling from last year.”