Joe Bendik wasn’t the most popular man in Toronto at the time of his departure for Orlando City in 2015.
Although his play was presumably hampered by a foot injury suffered early in the season – against Orlando City in an April 26, 2015 match-up, actually – it wasn’t Bendik’s finest season between the posts in the 13 games he did start for the Reds. Toronto went 4-8-1 in those outings, and Bendik had a goals-against average of 2.08 and a save percentage of 62.5%.
Although Toronto boasted one of the league’s worst defensive outfits that season, surrendering 58 goals (tied for worst in the league, and two more than Orlando City’s porous defense allowed that year), it was clear that the injured Bendik was inferior to his replacement Chris Konopka, who had a significantly lower goals-against average (1.48) and a better save percentage (67.4%) after taking over the starting spot for TFC.
But since his move south to Orlando City, Bendik has been a beast in goal. Having recovered from the foot injury and emerging as more of a vocal leader at the back for the Lions, Bendik has been integral to City’s success since his arrival and earned himself a three-year extension recently as a byproduct.
In 2016, Bendik was once again playing behind a weak defensive unit and the Lions surrendered the most goals in MLS (60), which was a harsh number for Bendik given that his big-time saves, which made him a weekly fixture in MLS’s Save of the Week award running, covered up for a lot of Orlando’s defensive woes and kept that goals allowed number from ballooning even more.
Bendik has gotten off to a roaring start in 2017, once again making big-time saves and helping an improved Lions back line hold its first two opponents to a combined one goal. With an international break upon us, what better time than now to look at the numbers to see just how much Bendik has improved since that disastrous, injured 2015 campaign.
Bendik by the Numbers
|Year||Goals-Against Avg.||Save %||GA-xGA|
|Year||Goals-Against Avg.||Save %||GA-xGA|
The raw numbers, as expected, back up Bendik’s improvement from ’15 to ’16. As we can see in the table above, Bendik’s goals-against average went down last season despite once again playing behind a shaky back line, and his save percentage was up 1.5%.
For extra contextual help, though, we’ve enlisted the help of American Soccer Analysis’ GA-xGA metric, or goals allowed minus expected goals allowed. This advanced metric measures how many additional goals a keeper allows vs. expectations. It takes into account expected goals (xG), which uses a number of factors including shot distance and placement on goal to determine the true goal value of a shot and, in the case of goalkeeper xG, how difficult it should be for the keeper to make a stop on a given shot relative to the average MLS goalkeeper.
ASA explains that a negative number in the GA-xGA column means that a goalkeeper is allowing fewer goals than expected given the quality of shots he’s facing, while a positive number means a keeper is leaking in goals he shouldn’t be allowing.
Looking at the column on the right, we can see Bendik’s tremendous improvement in this category from 2015 to 2016, as he was nearly perfectly on the nose last season in terms of how many goals he allowed vs. the number he would’ve been expected to concede considering the type of shots he faced. These figures don’t account for what ASA termed “extracurricular activities” (crosses, distribution, cutting off through balls, major blunders), but they help frame Bendik’s improvement from year-to-year without docking him for playing behind a bad defense the way traditional numbers do.
It’s necessary to mention the caveat of small sample size when looking at Bendik’s numbers this year, but we can see that he’s saved the Lions from allowing about one full goal more over the course of the first two games, as well as the obvious improvements in GAA and save percentage, where he’s currently tied for fourth-best in MLS with Tim Howard at 77.8%.
While advanced metrics like GA-xGA aren’t infallible, they do add a fun and insightful element to the way we can analyze performance. Given Bendik’s plethora of massive saves last year, one might have expected him to be in the negative in the right column for 2016, but that’s not quite the way it worked out. But sometimes isolated moments of greatness, like a huge 1-v-1 save, can inflate our overall judgment of a player’s performance, which metrics like this one help to counteract.
On the other hand, though, the metric doesn’t credit Bendik for the type of incredible play he made in the dying moments of Orlando’s win vs. Philadelphia, where he not only stopped a close-range header from Alejandro Bedoya, but also beat every player in the box to retrieve it and quell the danger to ultimately save the 2-1 win. There are elements other than shot-stopping that make a play like that massive for a club.
Regardless, Bendik’s bounce-back since coming to Orlando is evident, and his growth as a leader and big-time playmaker have also been critical for the Lions. We’ll see how his numbers continue to evolve as the season progresses.