Joe Bendik came into his second season with the Lions firmly holding the 2017 No. 1 goalkeeper spot with no one behind him really threatening to overtake him. Neither Josh Saunders, an aging veteran backup, nor Earl Edwards Jr., who was wisely sent to Orlando City B, gave Bendik much worry on who would be between the pipes all year long.
Our Gavin Ewbank hit the nail on the head last year with his 2017 outlook after the 2016 season:
Orlando City has found its goalkeeper moving forward. There’s no reason to think Bendik won’t be back next season as the No. 1 heading into the preseason. If Jason Kreis can fix up the back line this winter, Bendik will be much better off for having to work less, which of course is best for all parties involved. That’s the biggest key for the Lions.
In a year that had a lot of folks thinking playoffs — especially after the hot 6-1 start with three shutouts — Joe had an up-and-down season behind a back line that could not find consistency. An MLS Save of the Week winner three times this season, Bendik certainly performed admirably at times. But as his back line began to fail due to center back Jonathan Spector’s injury and Kreis’ inability to find a pairing that worked — despite nine different center back pairings rotating in and out — Bendik and the Lions were never able to find a rhythm on defense, leading to shaky goals throughout the back half of the year.
Before we get into his season grade, I think we need to give Bendik his props on a ridiculous save. While it was an outcome from a personal mistake, this save showed the drive of a guy that wouldn't quit even when it could have been easy to do so.
On a rainy Wednesday night in Orlando, the Lions faced D.C. United and were up, 1-0. A poor giveaway by Jose Aja about 30 yards from goal gave United the chance it was looking for. While Bendik initially made the wrong decision and charged out of his box with a wild slide tackle, he quickly bounced up to sprint back to the goal, and I won't spoil what happened next.
To no surprise, Bendik started 33 of the 34 matches for the Lions this season. His lone miss was the final match of the season against Philadelphia while going through MLS concussion protocol. Those 33 matches tied Joe with Seattle Sounders’ Stefan Frei for second in total minutes played, behind New York Red Bulls’ Luis Robles and Columbus Crew’s Zack Steffen, who played in all 34 regular season matches.
It was a busy year for Bendik to say the least. He faced the second-most shots in the league (173), only one behind Minnesota United’s Bobby Shuttleworth’s 174. Out of that 173, Bendik produced a league-high 118 saves, leading to a 68.2% save percentage. That save percentage puts him eighth for goalkeepers who started over 14 matches. If you were to cut out Brad Guzan, Bendik still sits seventh among starters with more than 24 matches (the number Bill Hamid started).
With seven shutouts, Bendik had more than notable names like Hamid and Tim Howard and ended up tied for 12th in the league in that category.
Unfortunately for Joe, the good news stops there, as he ended up giving up the second-most goals in MLS (52) this season only behind Shuttleworth (60). That led to a 1.58 goals-against average (GAA), which would put him 16th of the 18 goalkeepers that started over 24 matches.
For Bendik’s best game we go all the way back to the first match of the season against New York City FC. Everything circling around that match could have anyone’s nerves twitching. From it being opening day, to the first home match in the new stadium, against our expansion “rival,” and certainly in a year where we were all hoping to start off strong after a rough 2016, there was a lot on the players’ minds.
With a grade of 8.5 and MotM honors, it was a pretty easy decision in a game where Bendik showed everything he had. Facing seven shots on goal, with six saves, Bendik had to pull out a variety of saves, from breakaways to point-blank range stops, to give the Lions their first shutout of the season.
Two saves stood out from the rest, in the 32nd minute, Bendik was forced to race off his line and face Jack Harrison in a one-on-one situation 16 yards away from goal, and he wonderfully stretched out to make a great save to his right.
In the other big save in the game that earned him MLS Save of the Week honors, Bendik made an unbelievable save in the 53rd minute, moving to his right in a crowd to deny Harrison again — this time just seven yards from goal — to keep City’s lead.
Final 2017 Grade
The staff here at The Mane Land gave Bendik a composite grade of 7.5 on the year. While that’s lower than the 8 he received last year, we can argue that expectations were much higher in the season for Bendik in his second year in purple, with an improved defensive front in three out of the four positions.
Additionally, Bendik seemed to succumb to the fatigue that can often happen in a long, rough season in which a goalkeeper is getting blasted week in and week out. This leads to sloppy mistakes and goals that just shouldn't happen.
In no way did Bendik have a poor year, and in many ways he was Orlando’s best player this season. But it takes a lot to be locked in every week and we felt that he waned over the course of the year.
This is a very interesting question as Bendik will finally face a challenger for the No. 1 shirt next season in Earl Edwards Jr.. The Landlord, as he’s affectionately called, had a banner year for OCB and in no way should that final MLS regular season match vs. Philadelphia be held against him. With better athleticism and technical play (from his feet) from Edwards, Bendik is going to need a strong off-season and consistent play to keep one of the USL’s hottest young prospects at bay.
If he wins his spot, I definitely look for everything in the defensive third to improve, which will in turn improve Bendik’s play. I’ve said it a ton already, but it’s damn hard to be at a high level for 34 matches and you need to have that defensive consistency.
The battle for the No. 1 shirt is what I’m most looking forward to this off-season and I can't wait to see who comes out on top.