Earlier in the year The Mane Land asked those on the PawedCast to have some bold predictions, to clarify, a certain bold prediction was made about the status of who would be the keeper by the end of the Orlando City 2016 campaign. Yes, I was the one who predicted that Joe Bendik would not be starting for Orlando by the end of the season — not because of injury or another, bigger team coming into to buy him from OCSC, but because there was a lack of faith in his abilities.
Well, so far in 2016, that is proving to be a bad bold prediction. Joe has quite possibly been one of the most consistently strong performers for Orlando throughout the season. There were a few hiccups at the beginning of the season and some conversations circling if there was a lack of confidence for the keeper, but that has been quelled over the season and Joe has become a strong player anchoring a questionable, at times, back line.
It's easy to point to his numbers so far this season compared to the past few years in Toronto. So far in Orlando, Joe has 3.8 saves per 90 minutes, where over the past few years Joe at his best in Toronto had 3.5 saves per 90 minutes and the average over his last three years in Toronto is actually lower than that, coming in at 3.1 saves per 90 minutes.
It can be argued, perhaps, that over those years the defense in Toronto could be considered to be buttoned up quite a bit better than Orlando's this year. Perhaps the fact that Orlando is thought to have one of the worst back lines in the Eastern Conference has led to Joe getting more opportunities for saves. Taking that into consideration I wanted to look at another stat that could tell us if he has improved over the past few seasons.
So, there is any easy place to start and that is goals against per game, or goals-against average (GAA), yet that stat takes into account so many different variables that the keeper cannot control. But even there Joe has improved by 0.37 GAA over the last two years. So, I thought of using clearances as a way to measure if the goalie has been under a larger amount of pressure to explain goals against, but Joe has actually dropped in his average number of clearances per game, from 1.1 in 2014, to 1.8 in 2015, to 0.05 in 2016 with Orlando.
Another stat that can provide a good picture of a keeper's ability to stop the ball is, of course, save percentage. So far this season, Bendik is having his best season ever in MLS, with a 68.1% save percentage (SPct). That is a 5.6-point improvement over the 2015 MLS season and all of that is during a period when Joe has faced the second most shots on goal this season.
Considering all of the improvements seen in the numbers, this year has been the best of Bendik's career. Not only has he been able to improve his save percentage, his goals against per game, and his number of saves per game, but he has come into a new team — a new franchise at that — and instilled confidence at his position.
Here is to hoping that Joe keeps up his good play and the rest of the squad can start improving as he has done so that three points become a regular occurrence.