ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando City SC’s defense underwent a drastic makeover this offseason, but they have one constant in the back who continues to operate slightly under the radar.
And he definitely likes it that way.
Goalkeeper Joe Bendik took home both the players’ and the fans’ player-of-the-year awards last year in his debut season with the Lions, and he is already well on the way to earning more honors after recording two clean sheets in the first five games of the new campaign.
Orlando’s stellar defensive start to the season has become a major talking point after they finished dead last in goals conceded during their first two years in MLS. New center back Jonathan Spector has gotten plenty of credit for the turnaround, but Bendik has also played a major role.
Head coach Jason Kreis has consistently sung Bendik’s praises for the past six months, and his knack for the spectacular – he’s a regular frontrunner in the MLS Save of the Week voting – has caught the eye of many around Orlando. Bendik himself, however, says he'd be delighted not to make it into the Save of the Week category quite so often as he quietly builds a portfolio of work that netted him a three-year contract extension last month.
“It would be great [not to be mentioned]” he admitted. “If we can get through the game just keeping the ball and keeping a clean sheet, I’d be happy. And things definitely feel different this year. There were times in the [1-0 win against New York earlier this month] where a ball might have slipped through or things wouldn’t have been as clean [in the past]. It’s very encouraging, but we know the hard part is still to come.”
The 27-year-old is a firm favorite with the fans behind his goal for his athleticism and commitment. While the defense in front of him has been much improved, his shot-stopping ability has still played a big role: Bendik has made 16 saves to date while allowing just four goals.
According to Orlando goalkeeping coach Tim Mulqueen, Bendik’s highlight-reel ability is grounded in a studious approach that belies his easygoing character.
“I think what comes across with Joe most is that he is a student of the game, and therefore his decision-making process is very good,” Mulqueen said. “He is very knowledgeable of his responsibilities within the team and he maintains great focus.
“He is obviously an excellent shot-stopper. We have seen it time and time again. I’d say he is one of the best right now, and his leadership of the group is tremendous.”
Mulqueen, who has worked with longtime US national team goalkeeper Tim Howard as well as many of the prospects on the US U-17 and U-20 teams, even thinks Bendik could one day make his mark on the international level.
“Joe is still a young ‘keeper in real terms,” he said. “I still see him becoming more confident every session and that will grow as the years go by. I think he has tremendous upside and definitely has a chance with the national team. Is he still moving in that direction? I believe he is.”