Orlando City's long off-season is coming to a close, as preseason training opened this past weekend.
Among the many moves made by the club this winter, the release of starting goalkeeper--and fan favorite--Tally Hall caught just about everybody in Orlando by surprise. To fill his place on the roster, the Lions brought in another experienced MLS veteran goalkeeper, Joe Bendik, from Toronto FC.
Replacing a player loved by so many is never easy, and that's just one of the challenges Bendik will have to face here with Orlando City.
Earlier this week, Bendik spoke to the media for the first time since making his move to the Sunshine State.
"I have the utmost respect for Tally, I think he's an amazing goalkeeper ever since he came in the league." Bendik said on Monday. "I'm very passionate, I play with a lot of heart, and I know these fans here give it all back as well."
Bendik comes to Orlando City after spending the last three seasons with Toronto, where he started over 70 MLS matches for the Reds. In Orlando, the third MLS team he's been with since signing with the Portland Timbers in 2012, he's excited by the new opportunity.
"I think a fresh start is really important." he said. "We've got an excellent staff here, and like I said, an unbelievable support here with the fans. I can remember coming here and being absolutely blown away by the number of people in the stands and how loud it was, so I'm really excited."
Bendik was reunited in Orlando with his former goalkeeper coach, Stewart Kerr, who coached with Toronto for three seasons before being fired ahead of the 2015 season.
With Kerr on the staff, Orlando City was able to use his knowledge of the 26-year-old goalkeeper in order for Adrian Heath to bring him to Orlando.
"We brought Stewart Kerr in, which was one of the moves I wanted to make in the off-season. " Heath said on Monday. "And we feel that in Mason [Stajduhar] and Earl [Edwards Jr.] that we've got two really good, young goalkeepers. So when I spoke to Stewart about the job, he said he's worked with Joe for two or three years, so we knew what we were getting. We feel very happy with the three keepers we've got, and I think Orlando City's in great hands over the next few years."
The two got along very well in Toronto, and their relationship is only a positive sign heading into 2016.
But even with his goalkeeping coach on staff, Bendik is no sure thing to be starting in goal for Orlando City on March 6. That place in the Starting XI must be earned through preseason competition with Edwards Jr, an Orlando City draftee in 2015 who is thought of very highly in the eyes of those around the club.
"It's important to have that competition. Earl and I have already established a relationship," Bendik said of his new teammate and main competition. "It's important to push each other and to compete. At the end of the day, our goal as a goalkeepers' union is that all three of us are ready to play whenever the first whistle blows on the season."
Bendik seems up to the challenge of securing his starting role, and seems intent on helping the Lions make the playoffs in 2016.