The 23-man USMNT roster for the upcoming Gold Cup was released Sunday and at least two very important names to Lions fans were left off the roster — Joe Bendik and Jonathan Spector.
Both players have helped lead Orlando City to its best start since coming into the league in the 2015 season. Bendik is a second-year City keeper that fans of the team are used to while Spector is a new face that has adjusted to MLS action quickly. Both men have anchored a defense that does not make too many mistakes (not including recent history). With the form both players are in, you have to be asking yourself why these two United States internationals were left off the initial Gold Cup roster.
Bendik has been a shot-stopper extraordinaire for Orlando City as he has racked up two Save of the Week awards (12 career) and an MLS Player of the Month this season for the month of April.
His leadership for the Lions, complemented by his intensity, has saved Orlando City a number of times. His one-on-one play alone helps him stand out from the rest of the goalkeepers in MLS as he typically wins those battles in dramatic fashion.
So why was Joe Bendik left off the Gold Cup roster?
It is a tough question to answer, considering the fact that the roster feels more like a B team than anything else. With that said, Brad Guzan, a regular starter, has made the roster and looks to be the strong favorite for the starting job in place of Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson.
It was a mistake to leave Bendik off the roster due to the fact that this was the perfect opportunity to find a third goalkeeper with a year until the World Cup. Hamid and Johnson are both quality options in terms of a third keeper, but neither have been of better quality than Bendik.
Bendik has five shutouts, 63 saves, and a 1.44 goals-against average. In comparison, Hamid has 10 more saves at 73 but a higher goals-against average of 1.5 and only three shutouts to this point. Johnson has managed 40 saves, a 1.18 goals-against average, and four shutouts.
Their is no doubt that Hamid and Johnson have both been quality and neither one of them are in question as to why they were chosen. The person Bendik should be replacing is Guzan, and it is for two reasons: one, we know what to expect from Guzan, and, two, Guzan just got settled into his new team in Atlanta after being out of action for a little while. The time was ripe for Bendik, but it just was not meant to be. Anyone that watches Orlando City knows the simple fact that Bendik was the right man for the job and yet he was left behind.
Spector is a little bit of a different case study than Bendik. Spector is new to MLS and has adjusted very well thus far. His career has mostly taken place overseas as he has played primarily center back and outside back on the right side. His time overseas helped him develop into one of the best center backs in U.S. soccer, and yet he has gone unnoticed across the back line in the view of Bruce Arena.
Now, maybe not completely unnoticed, but the same argument stands. In what looks to be a mostly second-tier roster and a chance for a few names to stand out, Spector would have been, and should have been, one of the go-to names.
Since coming to Orlando City, he has helped change the defensive mindset of the Lions and, even better yet, has helped improve the defense immensely.
In years past, the Lions have been one of the worst defenses in MLS. It may not be 100 percent Spector, but a lot of the improvement has to be contributed to his play. Spector can read the game at a very high level, he wins balls in the air and on the low cross, and he is an outstanding last-resort defender for the Lions. Since coming into the squad, the team has changed and improved for the better, even improving to No. 1 in the league in the early parts of the season.
For any regular MLS watchers, the play of Spector cannot go unnoticed. He has been, and continues to be, a force to be reckoned with.
So why was Spector left off the Gold Cup roster?
Spector was left off the Gold Cup roster because the center back position happens to be one of the deepest positions for the U.S. It is not that his play isn’t great, because it is, but more so because of the quality in the U.S. pool, and, even better yet, the youth within that quality. Spector happens to be 31 years old, while the average age of the center backs that Arena has called in is 26.5 years old.
Maybe Spector gets a call-up soon, but much like his Orlando City teammate Bendik, do not expect it to happen within this Gold Cup time frame. The fact that he has not been in the discussion for a little bit of time makes him one of the odd men out. Maybe this fall we will see him lace up the boots for the Red, White & Blue. For now, Lions fans just have to wait.
On a side note, while both Lions players have been left off the initial Gold Cup roster, they still have a chance to make the roster in the knockout stages, as teams may switch out up to six players and all must come from the 40-man preliminary roster. That likelihood is minimal considering Bendik has yet to make a senior team cap and Spector’s appearances are few and far between, but injuries or yellow card concerns could open the door.
Do you think either player will get a chance to play for USMNT before the 2018 World Cup?