Since joining Orlando City prior to the 2016 season, goalkeeper Joe Bendik has been a key part of the little success the team has seen. With defensive struggles rearing their head again this year, the Lions need solid play in the net to make the postseason.
Orlando City has struggled defensively since its first season in MLS in 2015. The team has seen a continuous rotation of center backs over those seasons as first Adrian Heath and then Jason Kreis searched for a pairing that would work well together. Early in this season, it appeared that the team’s three center backs, Jonathan Spector, Lamine Sané, and Amro Tarek, would be a strength for the team, but the last three weeks have proven otherwise.
Despite allowing five goals in its first three games, the defense for Orlando City had been rather solid. Many of the goals were either due to giveaways by the midfield or the uncharacteristically poor play of Bendik. In the team’s 2-0 loss at New York City FC, the team’s worst performance so far this season, both goals came from bad giveaways from the midfield and a poor clearance from Bendik. Meanwhile, the center back pairings of Spector and Tarek, then Sané and Tarek, were the lone bright spot. However, that has changed over the past few weeks.
The last two home games for the club against the New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers were high scoring affairs with a 4-3 win followed by a 3-2 victory, respectively. Both games saw a defensive struggle for the Lions as captain Jonathan Spector dealt with a concussion and all three center backs continued to get used to playing with one another.
The tell-tale sign that the pairings were still having trouble came in the win over Portland when a lack of communication between Spector and Sané contributed to the Timbers’ second goal. The two visibly had words as they discussed how to solve their defensive issues.
While the defense has struggled, the offense has come to life over the past three games, with Dom Dwyer netting four of the team’s nine goals. But the Lions can’t depend on scoring several goals every game, something that is very unlikely to happen. That’s where the play of Bendik becomes key.
Through the first five games of the season, Joe Bendik did not look like the goalkeeper Orlando City fans have become used to seeing each week. The normally fundamentally sound goalkeeper has been caught out of position and has let a few balls get past him, something that’s been unthinkable in recent seasons. Friday night’s 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union was the first time this season that Bendik looked like his old self.
Despite being up 2-0 at halftime and holding on to win, Orlando City was dominated in both halves. The Union held possession for 55.7 percent of the game and outshot the Lions 19-8. The Union did have trouble finishing with a couple of chances they should’ve put away, but much of the Lions’ success came from the fantastic play of Bendik. The veteran ended up with five saves on the night, allowing the Lions to jump ahead and maintain their 2-0 lead.
Unless the Orlando City defense turns its play around, which is unlikely in the near future considering that Scott Sutter, Spector, and RJ Allen were all injured prior to or during the game, the team will still depend on its attacking prowess and Bendik. If Bendik continues to play the way he did Friday night, the result could be the largest number of points the team has seen in its four years in the league.