When Orlando City parted ways with goalkeeper Tally Hall in November, the club opened up its first real position battle of the 2016 season.
Even while Donovan Ricketts manned the net for Orlando early last season, Hall was always expected to be the club's goalkeeper for the foreseeable future. But less than a year after his first appearance with the Lions, Hall's time in purple is over. And the former MLS All-Star leaves some big shoes to fill.
Earl Edwards Jr. was the favorite to start for Orlando next season, until the club made a deal for Toronto FC goalkeeper Joe Bendik this week. The 26-year-old earned his first starting gig north of the border and enjoyed an up-and-down tenure with the Reds, until the club declined his option for next season. That allowed Orlando City to snag him for a fourth-round SuperDraft pick in 2017.
A pessimist would say that Orlando must now choose between a player who has never appeared in an MLS game (Edwards Jr.) and a player that Toronto FC considered expendable (Bendik). But Christmas Day is no time for such negativity.
It's time for hot takes.
So here are few things to look for as Bendik and Edwards Jr. battle for the starting job next season:
1) You won't be satisfied when Orlando names the starting goalkeeper for its MLS opener
But how could you be?
There's simply not enough time for Bendik or Edwards Jr. to earn the starting job outright before Orlando hosts Real Salt Lake on March 6. The Lions played just seven friendlies before opening the 2015 season, and assuming the club plays around that many exhibition matches this time around, neither goalkeeper should be able to separate themselves.
That would seem to favor Bendik, who may be given the nod as the more experienced of the two, but it also means that both players may be judged on a small sample size. A couple good performances could also be enough for Edwards Jr. to win the job if Bendik struggles.
2) Toronto FC fans will try and convince you that Bendik stinks
To say that Joe Bendik was controversial in Toronto would be a bit of an understatement. After all, the guy was voted the club's biggest scapegoat by the Toronto Sun last season.
And his 2015 numbers aren't exactly encouraging. Bendik ranked 20th in saves last season, behind both Ricketts and Hall. His goals against average of 2.08 wasn't much better, the second-worst in MLS for any keeper with more than 10 appearances.
But there is reason for optimism.
Bendik played behind a porous Toronto back line last season, and at just 26, is still young for a goalkeeper. The Lions clearly believe he can turn it around next season and prove the fans at BMO Field wrong.
3) That's a good thing too, because he's going to be in goal on March 6
There's no reason to believe Earl Edwards Jr. can't still win Orlando's goalkeeping job at some point in the future, but a handful of friendlies just won't be enough for him to win the club's trust.
Bendik has showed promise during his MLS career, enough for the Lions to take a chance on him in 2016. He'll get a quick hook if he struggles, but the starting job should be Joe Bendik's when the season kicks off in March.