TORONTO – The battle for Toronto FC’s No. 1 goalkeeping spot is heating up.
Chris Konopka has done an admirable job filling in for Joe Bendik, but with the opening day starter now healthy again, TFC head coach Greg Vanney has a decision to make between the pipes ahead of Saturday's clash at D.C. United (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
Does he stick with Konopka or allow Bendik another chance to win back the spot he firmly held prior to suffering a foot injury five weeks ago?
For Konopka, the battle for the No. 1 spot isn’t too much of a worry.
“I mean, I think it’s very healthy between the two of us, because we’re pushing each other every day,” Konopka told reporters after training on Thursday. “Joe is trying to find his form like it was before his injury and I’m trying to better myself every single day. When you have that, and especially with myself and Joe, who have a pretty good relationship, [the competition] is only for the betterment of the team.”
Konopka was a relative unknown prior to this season, with the 30-year-old only registering two career MLS starts before 2015. He’s shown well in five MLS starts since Bendik – who played 30 minutes last week in TFC’s friendly against Manchester City – went down, posting a 3-1-1 record, notching 17 saves and only allowing four goals while tallying two clean sheets.
Part of Konopka’s personal path of growth included playing alongside Brazilian international Julio Cesar early last season, and, now, going up against players like Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore in training every day.
“When you have to go up against guys like that every day, it obviously makes you a better player,” Konopka said. “You see things that maybe become less unexpected on the field. Definitely, I think going against him and Jozy every day, who are some of the best guys in the league you could go against, is great for confidence when you make a save off of them.”
Konopka has grown since getting his first TFC start on May 2 against the Philadelphia Union and he’s making the case, now, that consistency is key for future successes.
“You look at the best teams around the entire league and the reason they do well is because of consistency,” Konopka explained. “Columbus, D.C., Real Salt Lake, the reason why they are always difficult to play against and are realistically, at the end of the season, within the playoff picture, is because they have consistency in their team. You only become a better team when you have that consistency.”
It’s an argument that Vanney has also weighed in on as well. He’s started the same back four – Ashtone Morgan, Eriq Zavaleta, Damien Perquis and Justin Morrow – with Konopka during TFC’s two-game winning streak, and keeping that unit together may just be what the doctor ordered for Toronto’s backline.
“If the four of them, with the goalkeeper, are a sound unit, then that’s the best thing,” Vanney said. “That’s better than any one guy being a standout defender. As long as the group is defending well, working together, reading and covering each other and are connected to one another, then there isn’t really a need for too many changes.”
“Sometimes in the course of the season you have injuries or different things that force you into changes but ultimately I think, especially with a relatively new team, consistency is always a positive.”