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Orlando City Needs Joe Bendik to Return to His Best Form

Bendik isn’t the reason the Lions are on a five-game losing skid, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement between the posts.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Vancouver Whitecaps Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Bendik is a good goalkeeper. His good positioning and quick reflexes allow him to make some unbelievable saves and have him in the running for MLS Save of the Week time and time again. This year, though, Bendik hasn’t quite reached his top form.

So far, Bendik has made 40 saves — the 12th-highest total in MLS — and has allowed 28 goals. His save percentage of 57% is one of the lowest in the league and his passing accuracy of 60% is terrible. The No. 1 area that he needs to improve upon is his distribution.

It feels as if every time he has the ball and is ready to pass to a teammate, it is going to be a 50/50 challenge. He needs to be able to pick players out and get it to them and, most importantly, keep the ball in bounds. Below is his passing chart from Orlando City’s 3-0 loss to New York City FC that is typical of what he’s been producing in 2018.

He connects on passes up close to the the box, but he turns it over on long balls. This season he has attempted 214 long balls and connected on just 80, but has turned over one short pass out of 123 total.

The fix to his distribution seems clear when looking at the numbers: He needs to quit booting the ball down the field and look to give it to his defenders. All the defenders are decent enough with their feet that they will be able to control the ball from Bendik and build out of the back, especially the fullbacks.

The other part of Bendik’s game that he needs to improve is, well, keeping the ball out of the back of the net. In his time in Orlando he has typically made all the saves that he needed to make. This season it looks like he’s taken a step down. Take the goal below from last weekend’s dismantling at Vancouver, for example.

The goal was not his fault. The sequence started with a turnover in the midfield, but the ball went right under Bendik. Granted it is not the easiest save to make, but it’s one that he should be making.

Similarly, he also should have done better with this goal against Vancouver. Once again, it was not his fault. He made the first stop and every other Lion was ball watching, but Bendik should have caught it or pushed it out towards the corner flag. Instead, it hit him and fell right at the feet of Alphonso Davies.

There have been situations like this occurring throughout the season where the goals are not necessarily his fault, but he could have done a better job handling the shots.

It seems this year that Bendik is not as sharp as in previous seasons, and it’s hurting Orlando. He is not at all the reason why the Lions are on a losing streak at the moment, but that doesn’t mean he can’t — and shouldn’t — step up his game and focus in on fundamentals. It is time to start seeing those point-blank, Save of the Week candidates from the 29-year-old again.

Sometimes all it takes is a huge save to change the momentum of a game and lead the team to three points.