It’s never a seamless transition with coaching turnover. Orlando City has experienced its fair share of bumps in the road as the team moves closer to Jason Kreis’ vision and away from Adrian Heath’s, from player personnel to formation. But it’s the new ideals that Kreis has brought to Orlando have the potential to have the biggest impact on the future of the club; they’re also the hardest to instill in the players.
Naturally, it hasn’t been so easy for the head coach to convince players of the previous administration to come around to his view. There has been a slow attrition of players who, for one reason or another, have not fit in with the new system. And, as is often the case in a salary-capped league, it comes down to salaries.
Unequivocally, the biggest blow was the loss of Kevin Molino after a rift between the new coaching staff and the play-maker, reportedly for a disagreement on wages. It’s an ideology that promotes the team’s performance above individuals, but it’s difficult to convince professionals not to ask for money that they believe they deserve. Getting the team to buy in to that takes a lot of commitment to putting the club before the individual.
Joe Bendik — who officially added three more years to his contract on Monday — is the first big domino to fall in securing a stable future for the Jason Kreis regime. He has apparently accepted that he won’t earn a huge raise in wages until the team as a whole performs, instead opting to extend his stay on a similar deal.
“It’s interesting because he took on the message that there wasn’t gonna be any big raises for players that were here last year,” Kreis said on Tuesday. “But what he wanted was some security. He wanted some length added onto his contract because he loves Orlando. He wants to be a part of this for many years to come, so it was an easy decision for all of us.”
Bendik buying in to Kreis’ mantra and committing his future to Orlando City is big. For a team still looking to nail down its vocal leaders, having one of its most consistent performers commit to three additional seasons is huge for the club’s trajectory. A vocal leader on the field, who outperformed expectations, not taking a huge contract jump is exactly what Kreis needs.
“We had a talk and basically a commitment towards the club as long as those three years and hopefully many years after that,” the goalkeeper said about his new deal. “For me, it’s a place that I completely believe in. And the support and everything — the way that everything’s gone here — it’s on an upward slope.”
Bendik, who won both the Players’ and Fans’ Player of the Year awards in his first year with the club, has also taken on more responsibility along with his new contract.
When asked what he’s learned so far in Orlando, he replied: “I guess a little bit more just to become a leader. We have a lot of experience and a lot of guys that can help with that, but through the course of last year, we struggled maybe a little bit with that. Hopefully I can give a bit more there.”
And it’s this type of leadership and accountability that will take Orlando City to the next level. Kreis has championed the idea of the team playing more as a single unit on the pitch with all 11 participating in attack and defense, but having that mentality off the pitch could take the whole squad one step further. Joe has led by example, dismissing the potential of a large raise he had earned on the pitch. If the rest of the team follows suit with a team-first mentality, Orlando City will indeed be on an upward slope.