Joe Bendik came into his second season with the Lions firmly holding the 2017 No. 1 goalkeeper spot with no one behind him really threatening to overtake him. Neither Josh Saunders, an aging veteran backup, nor Earl Edwards Jr., who was wisely sent to Orlando City B, gave Bendik much worry on who would be between the pipes all year long.
Our Gavin Ewbank hit the nail on the head last year with his 2017 outlook after the 2016 season:
Orlando City has found its goalkeeper moving forward. There’s no reason to think Bendik won’t be back next season as the No. 1 heading into the preseason. If Jason Kreis can fix up the back line this winter, Bendik will be much better off for having to work less, which of course is best for all parties involved. That’s the biggest key for the Lions.
In a year that had a lot of folks thinking playoffs — especially after the hot 6-1 start with three shutouts — Joe had an up-and-down season behind a back line that could not find consistency. An MLS Save of the Week winner three times this season, Bendik certainly performed admirably at times. But as his back line began to fail due to center back Jonathan Spector’s injury and Kreis’ inability to find a pairing that worked — despite nine different center back pairings rotating in and out — Bendik and the Lions were never able to find a rhythm on defense, leading to shaky goals throughout the back half of the year.
Before we get into his season grade, I think we need to give Bendik his props on a ridiculous save. While it was an outcome from a personal mistake, this save showed the drive of a guy that wouldn't quit even when it could have been easy to do so.
On a rainy Wednesday night in Orlando, the Lions faced D.C. United and were up, 1-0. A poor giveaway by Jose Aja about 30 yards from goal gave United the chance it was looking for. While Bendik initially made the wrong decision and charged out of his box with a wild slide tackle, he quickly bounced up to sprint back to the goal, and I won't spoil what happened next.
To no surprise, Bendik started 33 of the 34 matches for the Lions this season. His lone miss was the final match of the season against Philadelphia while going through MLS concussion protocol. Those 33 matches tied Joe with Seattle Sounders’ Stefan Frei for second in total minutes played, behind New York Red Bulls’ Luis Robles and Columbus Crew’s Zack Steffen, who played in all 34 regular season matches.
It was a busy year for Bendik to say the least. He faced the second-most shots in the league (173), only one behind Minnesota United’s Bobby Shuttleworth’s 174. Out of that 173, Bendik produced a league-high 118 saves, leading to a 68.2% save percentage. That save percentage puts him eighth for goalkeepers who started over 14 matches. If you were to cut out Brad Guzan, Bendik still sits seventh among starters with more than 24 matches (the number Bill Hamid started).
With seven shutouts, Bendik had more than notable names like Hamid and Tim Howard and ended up tied for 12th in the league in that category.
Unfortunately for Joe, the good news stops there, as he ended up giving up the second-most goals in MLS (52) this season only behind Shuttleworth (60). That led to a 1.58 goals-against average (GAA), which would put him 16th of the 18 goalkeepers that started over 24 matches.
For Bendik’s best game we go all the way back to the first match of the season against New York City FC. Everything circling around that match could have anyone’s nerves twitching. From it being opening day, to the first home match in the new stadium, against our expansion “rival,” and certainly in a year where we were all hoping to start off strong after a rough 2016, there was a lot on the players’ minds.
With a grade of 8.5 and MotM honors, it was a pretty easy decision in a game where Bendik showed everything he had. Facing seven shots on goal, with six saves, Bendik had to pull out a variety of saves, from breakaways to point-blank range stops, to give the Lions their first shutout of the season.
Two saves stood out from the rest, in the 32nd minute, Bendik was forced to race off his line and face Jack Harrison in a one-on-one situation 16 yards away from goal, and he wonderfully stretched out to make a great save to his right.
In the other big save in the game that earned him MLS Save of the Week honors, Bendik made an unbelievable save in the 53rd minute, moving to his right in a crowd to deny Harrison again — this time just seven yards from goal — to keep City’s lead.
Final 2017 Grade
The staff here at The Mane Land gave Bendik a composite grade of 7.5 on the year. While that’s lower than the 8 he received last year, we can argue that expectations were much higher in the season for Bendik in his second year in purple, with an improved defensive front in three out of the four positions.
Additionally, Bendik seemed to succumb to the fatigue that can often happen in a long, rough season in which a goalkeeper is getting blasted week in and week out. This leads to sloppy mistakes and goals that just shouldn't happen.
In no way did Bendik have a poor year, and in many ways he was Orlando’s best player this season. But it takes a lot to be locked in every week and we felt that he waned over the course of the year.
This is a very interesting question as Bendik will finally face a challenger for the No. 1 shirt next season in Earl Edwards Jr.. The Landlord, as he’s affectionately called, had a banner year for OCB and in no way should that final MLS regular season match vs. Philadelphia be held against him. With better athleticism and technical play (from his feet) from Edwards, Bendik is going to need a strong off-season and consistent play to keep one of the USL’s hottest young prospects at bay.
If he wins his spot, I definitely look for everything in the defensive third to improve, which will in turn improve Bendik’s play. I’ve said it a ton already, but it’s damn hard to be at a high level for 34 matches and you need to have that defensive consistency.
The battle for the No. 1 shirt is what I’m most looking forward to this off-season and I can't wait to see who comes out on top.
Previous 2017 Player Season in Review Posts (Date Published)
Wide Players Made the Difference in Victory Over Cavalry FC
Orlando’s fullbacks and wingers had great games against Cavalry, and it helped propel the Lions to victory.
Orlando City began its 2024 season with a resounding and confident 3-0 win over Cavalry FC on the road up in Canada. The Lions grabbed control of the game with an early goal and never let up, and now go into next week’s home leg in excellent position to advance to the next round. Everyone who played out wide for OCSC can and should take a well-earned bow for their performances, as it was their excellent games that pushed the Lions to a big advantage after the first leg.
The first goal looked easy enough, but it was a product of good vision and better execution. After collecting the ball near midfield, Wilder Cartagena turned into space and played a quick ball out to Ivan Angulo on the left wing. Martin Ojeda began his run in a fairly central position, but recognized that there was space behind fullback Shamit Shome, and immediately went to it. He was rewarded when Angulo took one touch to collect the ball, another to settle it, and used his third to play Ojeda into the space behind Shome, with defensive midfielder Jesse Daley coming back to cover. However, the pass from Angulo was perfectly weighted and Ojeda was able to use his first touch to play a cross into the box, preventing Daley from getting in the way of his delivery. Ojeda laid the ball on a plate, and Duncan McGuire made no mistake from close range.
The second goal also came as a result of play out wide, although it was more a goal of individual brilliance than team skill. Dagur Dan Thorhallsson drove at the heart of the retreating Cavalry defense, and pulled three players to him before releasing the ball at precisely the correct time to Facundo Torres on the right wing. Once there, the man defending Torres, William Akio, made the cardinal sin of allowing Facu to cut in on his left foot, and Orlando’s new no. 10 made the opposition pay with a shot to the near post that skipped off the turf and beat Marco Carducci, who admittedly maybe should have done better with it than he did.
The dagger came as a result of more excellent play down the left-hand side. Nicolas Lodeiro, Angulo, and Ramiro Enrique used some slick one-touch passing that resulted in Enrique sending Angulo in behind on the left. Enrique’s ball to free his fellow Colombian was perfectly weighted, and Angulo was able to use his first touch to play a perfect lofted cross to the back post, where Torres dispatched it with a beautiful diving header for his second of the match.
Numbers don’t lie, and they back up the assertion that the wide players had good games. Thorhallsson promptly picked up where he left off at right back, finishing with 81% passing accuracy, one key pass, one assist, one clearance, and one interception. If he keeps this up, then Mikey Halliday is going to have a fight on his hands when it comes to the starting job. Kyle Smith quietly had a good game on the opposite side of the defense, completing one dribble, winning a tackle, and recording four clearances, although his 72% passing accuracy could have been better.
Ivan Angulo was an absolute terror, and looked even more dangerous on the slick turf than he normally does on grass fields. He gave the Cavalry defense fits, and completed four dribbles, recording two key passes, a cross, two long balls, an interception, a tackle, and an assist while completing 84% of his passes. As in seasons past, the big question for him this year surrounds his decision-making in the final third and his finishing. If both of those attributes continue to improve, then he’ll be an almighty handful for opposing defenses.
Torres was, well, Torres. He’s been the straw that stirs Orlando City’s drink for two years now, and Wednesday night was no different. Facu took three shots and scored with the two he put on target, completed 86% of his passes, logging one key pass. He also completed a dribble and chipped in with a clearance and an interception on defense. Time will tell if he’s managed to add the use of his right foot to his game yet, but he was a pleasure to watch, as usual.
I also want to take a moment to shout-out Ojeda. While he was deployed through the middle in the no. 10 role, rather than out wide, where we’re used to seeing him, he was excellent. The Argentine repeatedly drifted into the half-spaces between center back and fullback and had a field day pulling the strings, as he finished with a whopping five key passes. If he can translate that sort of performance to MLS, then a lot of pressure will be taken off the aging legs of Nico Lodeiro.
In short, the Lions made their living on Wednesday by stretching the field, getting the ball to their dangerous players out wide, and then making and executing the correct decisions once it was there. There were a lot of things to like offensively about the performance, and it provided plenty to build on when OCSC opens MLS play against CF Montreal tomorrow. Vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 2/23/24
Orlando Pride’s Megan Montefusco placed on season-ending injury list, Orlando City’s chances to win it all, USWNT plays Argentina tonight, and more.
Happy Friday! It’s the final Friday before we spend pretty much every weekend screaming our hearts out for Orlando’s soccer teams. Although I won’t be in Orlando for tomorrow’s game, I’ll be cheering along from Tampa and am looking forward to a strong start to the season from the Lions. Before we get into today’s links, let’s all wish a happy birthday to our favorite octopus, Pedro Gallese!
Megan Montefusco Placed On Season-Ending Injury List
The Orlando Pride suffered a blow to their defense as center back Megan Montefusco was placed on the season-ending injury list after undergoing surgery on her right foot. Montefusco joined the Pride through a trade before the 2022 season and did well coming off the bench last season to keep Orlando’s defense strong as the year wore on. The Pride have options to fill the void, as Carrie Lawrence is back in the fray after missing last season due to injury and Tori Hansen will be back once her time on loan in Australia is up. Orlando could also go out and bring in a veteran to replace Montefusco or sign Cori Dyke, who was drafted by the Pride in the second round. Regardless, losing Montefusco is rough, considering Rafaella will likely be with Brazil for the Olympics this summer.
Orlando City’s Championship Credentials
Joseph Lowery of MLSsoccer.com detailed the strengths and weaknesses of each MLS team in terms of having what it takes to win it all this year. Orlando City followed up a pretty stellar off-season with a nearly perfect preseason. Head Coach Oscar Pareja, winger Ivan Angulo, and midfielder Wilder Cartagena are all sticking around, while Robin Jansson, Facundo Torres, and the front office brain trust of Luiz Muzzi and Ricardo Moreira were locked down as well. Additions of David Brekalo, Luis Muriel, and Nico Lodeiro also ensured this team has few holes. There’s concern that there are too many mouths to feed though, and that no single player can take the reins of the offense. I disagree on that being much of an issue though, as the attack is fluid enough to beat different teams in different ways. The Lions may go without All-Star representation as a result, but they should rack up plenty of points spreading the wealth on offense.
USWNT Takes on Argentina Tonight
The United States Women’s National Team will face Argentina tonight at 10:15 p.m. in its second game of the inaugural Concacaf W Gold Cup. The U.S. did well in its 5-0 win over the Dominican Republic, but there were opportunities to score even more. Since there will be reseeding for the knockout stages, scoring plenty of goals will benefit the USWNT. Midge Purce was excellent in the opener and the USWNT will need to be sharper at putting away good service from the wings. Argentina held Mexico to a scoreless draw in its opener and will likely be hungry to score its first goal of the tournament.
Keeping Up With the Europa League
The first round of the Europa League’s knockout stage came to a close after a drama-filled day of soccer. Only one game went to penalty kicks, as AS Roma beat Feyenoord after a 1-1 draw thanks to two saves from Mile Svilar in the shootout. There was a thriller in Azerbaijan as well. A red card reduced Qarabag FK to 10 men and Braga took full advantage, scoring twice to send the game into extra time. They then traded goals until 19-year-old winger Nariman Akhundzade gave Qarabag the winner in stoppage time. In Germany, SC Freiburg came back from a two-goal deficit to beat Lens in extra time as well.
Elsewhere, a red card doomed Galatasaray as Sparta Prague rallied late to win, and AC Milan survived a hat trick from Rennes midfielder Benjamin Bourigeaud to advance on aggregate. Sporting CP, Marseille, and Benfica all booked their spot in the round of 16 as well, with the draw set for today.
- New food vendors will be available for fans at Orlando City and Orlando Pride home games this year, with Flippers Pizzeria Company now a permanent addition. New options for the rotating carts include Pardon My Cheesesteak and Omusubee Japanese Rice Balls.
- Congratulations to Pride defender Emily Madril on getting married!
- Former Barcelona right back Dani Alves was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison after being found guilty of sexual assault.
- Former Lion Greg Ranjitsingh has re-signed with Toronto FC through the 2024 season, with an option for 2025. The 30-year-old sticks around in Toronto’s goalkeeping corps, which also includes Sean Johnson and Luka Gavran.
- The Philadelphia Union loaned forward Joaquin Torres to Club Deportivo Universidad Catolica in Chile’s top flight.
- English goalkeeper Joe Hart will retire following this season with Celtic, ending a 20-year career.
- Luis de la Fuente’s contract as the manager of Spain’s men’s national team was extended through the 2026 World Cup.
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!
Orlando City vs. CF Montreal: Three Keys to Victory
What does Orlando City need to do to secure all three points in the home opener against CF Montreal?
Orlando City will host CF Montreal in the club’s first match of the 2024 MLS regular season this Saturday night. The Lions are coming off the Concacaf Champions Cup match against Cavalry FC Wednesday night. Orlando City will want to get things started the right way as expectations and aspirations are higher than ever for the club.
What does Orlando City need to do to secure a victory in the home opener against their Canadian opponents?
Orlando City has four matches in 11 days — the previously mentioned Wednesday match against Cavalry in Canada, the match against Montreal on Saturday, the return match against Cavalry in Orlando next Tuesday, and then a trip to Ft. Lauderdale to take on Inter Miami. That is quite a start to competitive play in 2024.
Because of the schedule congestion, Oscar Pareja will need to rotate players. That means we’re not likely to have the preferred starting 11 as much as any of us will like. Kyle Smith, Michael Halliday, Jeorgio Kocevski, and others will likely see playing time. How well Pareja manages when to use which players, and for how long, will determine not just the result of this match against Montreal, but for each of the other matches as well.
Rodrigo Schlegel is serving a suspension in this first league match and will not be available. That means Orlando City’s newest center back, David Brekalo, will probably get the start alongside Robin “The Beefy Swede” Jansson. Having a good center back pairing is absolutely essential to the success of any defense. We know that because once Jansson and former Lion Antonio Carlos worked together for a while, they became an absolute fortress on the back line.
Now, Jansson will need to build the same chemistry with Brekalo if the Lions want to maintain their position as one of the best defenses in the league. With Schlegel unavailable, there is no question that Jansson and Brekalo will have the opportunity to start building that relationship. Hopefully, it will be good enough to keep Montreal — especially Josef Martinez — out of the goal.
Keep Torres Scoring
Facundo Torres had a great preseason. Orlando City’s new owner of the No. 10 shirt needs to keep doing the same. He’ll need to score goals, provide assists, and create problems for Montreal’s defense. Traditionally, Montreal has put out a three-man back line. While that means it’ll be a five-man back line when Orlando City has the ball, during changes of possession there should be space for Torres to get free and get scoring opportunities.
If Montreal smartly tried to contain Torres, then it will have to deal with Duncan McGuire, Nico Lodeiro, and Ivan Angulo. Orlando City’s offense has the potential to score quite a few more goals this season, and it all starts Saturday night against Montreal. Get two on the board and I think it will mean three points in the standings.
That is what I will be looking for Saturday night. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Vamos Orlando!
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