If nothing else, 2014 was a good year for Toronto FC keepers. The club had two players go to the World Cup, but there is no question that having the club’s name under the keeper for the host team, not to mention the fact that the host team was Brazil, was something special. Many would even consider it to be the high point of the season.
Julio Cesar, for his part, only played 7 games in what was a glorified conditioning stint before the World Cup, but one that turned out to be meaningful nonetheless. There is no question that while Joe Bendik didn’t profit from having the Brazilian take his starting job initially, it did help him over time. That in itself is grounds to consider Cesar’s time in Toronto as a success.
Without a doubt, Cesar had an impact on the young American as he continues to develop into one of the league’s best goalkeepers. This is especially true of his shotstopping abilities, which at times stand alone in the league. He is also only 25-years-old, about 5 or more years from the prime age of goaltenders.
One thing that is also starting to become apparent is the maturity and the leadership shown by Bendik at such a young age. It is something that is invaluable to a Toronto FC dressing room that hasn’t always been graced with the quality leadership that it currently possesses. His role as the club’s representative in the MLS collective bargaining negotiations should only underline this fact.
If he can continue to develop certain elements of his game, there is an argument to be made that he is among the most promising American goaltending prospects. That makes two for Toronto FC’s roster, as Alex Bono has already been called up into the American national team camp.
The parts of his game that could use some refining have not changed exponentially in the recent past. One is his distribution, although upon reviewing the stats there have been improvements in this category. In 2013, Joe Bendik was 5th in league among keepers for inaccurate longballs, this year he was 17th according to WhoScored. He also had 35 more accurate longballs in less games.
The other is his organization of the backline. This was something that was clearly in contrast when Julio Cesar was in net versus when it was Bendik. Especially when Steven Caldwell was not around to organize the troops, Toronto’s backline fell into complete disarray. It wasn’t entirely Bendik’s fault, but he didn’t help the team to the degree that he could have.
On the other hand, perhaps the biggest development of the season for Bendik was that he learned something that cannot be taught: how to be a gamebreaker. The quality of goaltending in Major League Soccer is actually pretty solid overall, but there are still few who can steal a game. Especially late in the season Bendik had a couple of games where he was able to do just that.
This isn’t to say Bendik’s role as starter is secure, because ever since Alex Bono was drafted 6th overall he instantly had competition. If the argument against Bono is that he is too young, or too inexperienced, than instantly throw it out the window as Toronto FC has been doing for years now. There is something to be said about Bono being called up to the national team before Bendik.
The examples of young goalkeepers taking the reins in Toronto are plentiful. Stefan Frei was drafted 12th overall and took the job from Greg Sutton. He was later injured, which saw Milos Kocic take over. Then both Kocic and Frei would ultimately lose their jobs to Bendik. The combined experience of all these goalies before the stepped into the starter’s role? About 8 Major League Soccer games.
Competition for Bendik isn’t a bad thing, however. As aforementioned, a frustrating situation that saw Cesar come in and take his position last year worked out for the better. Having Bono in camp, and maybe even Quillan Roberts, to pressure his once assured starting job won’t either. Barring injury he will start for Toronto FC, but he will have to work for the job.
After two seasons it is hard to make any sort of longterm prediction as to the development of Bendik. However his defense alone should, in theory, help him out. When asked, Bendik would always say how much he loved "big guy" Doneil Henry. But I don’t think he would argue with having someone a little more levelheaded and stable in front of him this upcoming season.
Bendik wasn’t a headliner last season and as the dawn rises on 2015 he is no closer to that status. However, there is no question he is crucial to what Toronto accomplishes this upcoming season. With the roster they have, every game he steals will only bring the playoffs that much closer.