ORLANDO, Fla.— Orlando City goalkeeper coach Stewart Kerr believes starting netminder Joe Bendik can put himself in the US national team conversation with another strong showing in Sunday’s showdown at New York Red Bulls (7:30 pm ET, FS1, MLS LIVE in Canada).
The former Toronto FC shot-stopper has been Mr. Reliable in the first six games with Orlando City, picking up one Save of the Week honor and another nomination in the past three weeks.
Just as importantly, Bendik is helping to highlight the current crop of sure-handed keepers in MLS, and both he and Kerr believe the league has never been better at the position – an assertion that will be put to the test on Sunday when the Lions take on the Red Bulls and their eye-catching No. 1, Luis Robles, on national television.
Coincidentally, Kerr thinks the regular appearances in the TV spotlight are really giving Bendik a boost.
“Joe has hit his comfort zone here very quickly,” Kerr said. “The whole club is very happy with him and the supporters are starting to see what his game is all about.
“It definitely helps that we have had a lot of TV games. That has been good for him this season, and this Sunday is another good opportunity for Joe to match himself against Robles and try to push his way into national consideration.”
The 26-year-old Bendik insists he is fully settled in Central Florida and he is increasingly inspired by watching many of his contemporaries this season.
“It has been easy for me to transition here, especially [since I know Kerr] from Toronto,” Bendik said. “But I think the general standard of goalkeeping in the league is helping us to push things collectively.
“The thing is that with us playing so much on Fridays and Sundays, it gives us the chance to watch all the Saturday games and, from a goalkeeping perspective, that gives you some extra motivation to produce your best each time.”
Orlando’s new last line of defense is certainly fast filling the void left by fan favorite Tally Hall, but Bendik points to the examples of clutch fellow netminders for blazing a trail for him to follow.
“It is definitely a plus for young goalkeepers to look to the example of someone like [D.C. United’s] Bill Hamid,” Bendik said. “He has gone through some rough patches and firmly established himself as one of the best in this league.
“[Real Salt Lake’s] Nick Rimando had the same thing and is now a top goalkeeper, and you could also say that David Ousted [of Vancouver] has got into form the same way. Adam Kwarasey at Portland is another. In fact, you could say MLS has never been stronger at this position and everyone is pushing everyone else right now.”
Kerr is equally bullish about the overall good health of the league’s goalkeeping fraternity, but is just as convinced that Bendik can put himself in contention for a place in Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad in the not-too-distant future.
For Bendik, it may just be a touch early to make that claim:
“A lot of times, things like this are heavily based on a team’s performances in league terms, and we’re not quite there yet. But, if we can continue to do well through the year then, at the end of the season, that will be the time to get the plaudits.”