TORONTO – Toronto FC captain Darren O’Dea scoffs when told that the MLS’s Castrol Index Weekly Top 20 player rankings have teammate Joe Bendik listed as only the league’s eighth-best goalkeeper.
“I see the best goalkeeper in the league at the minute,” said the Irish international defender. “That’s what I see.
“There was no doubt about it, he was the best ‘keeper in the league this week. Since he’s been in, six games (this season), for me he’s been the best ‘keeper in the league. I’m not saying he IS the best ‘keeper in the ‘league, but (he is the one) in-form.”
MLS did show Bendik some love by naming him to its team of the week. The 23-year-old from Georgia is also up for save of the week.
But according to the league’s Castrol “official performance index,” Bendik ranks behind New England’s Bobby Shuttleworth, FC Dallas’ Raul Fernandez, Portland’s Donovan Ricketts, New York’s Luis Robles, Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando, Los Angeles’ Carlo Cudicini and Chivas USA’s Dan Kennedy in the Week 7 rankings.
Bendik actually ranked 13th among all players in the weekly Castrol Index which “tracks every move on the field and assesses whether it has a positive or negative impact on a team’s ability to score or concede a goal,” according to the league’s website.
Bendik ranks 185th in the league in the current overall index, which is updated monthly. The top TFC player is striker Robert Earnshaw at No. 61
“It’s obviously a guy who’s never played football (has) come up with that,” O’Dea said of the rankings.
Toronto goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr is also no fan of goalie statistics.
“You can make 10 nothing saves and you can make one great save,” said Kerr.
“We know how good a job he does and that’s all that matters,” added the assistant coach.
Apprised of his lowly ranking, Bendik smiled.
“That’s cool,” he said with a laugh.
“At the end of the day, it’s really what you think of yourself and what your team thinks about you,” he added.
Lack of respect for Toronto FC in the league has developed into somewhat of a storyline this season.
If you believe that big teams and big names tend to get preferential treatment — or at least the benefit of the doubt — no matter the league, then a franchise with a career 46-90-58 record is likely going to get the soccer equivalent of the restaurant table near the washrooms.
Toronto (1-2-3 this season) has long been the league doormat. And while the product on the field is changing for the better, the respect is slow to come.
Darrel Russell’s long-range rocket against FC Dallas two weeks ago failed to earn goal of the week honours. A lesser score by Portland’s Ryan Johnson won top honours, with credit probably going to Portland fans for voting often.
On the MLS official website, the story on the save of the week competition leads with U.S. goalies Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson, opening with “It’s those two again.”
After fullback Ashtone Morgan was sent off last weekend in Philadelphia for a questionable second yellow, a frustrated O’Dea said:” “That’s typical in this league. Canada you don’t get much … Typical, being from Toronto you don’t get much.”
Asked Wednesday about those comments, the Toronto captain still exhibited a degree of frustration over his team’s treatment.
“I don’t know what it is. But I heard the manager (Ryan Nelsen) saying when you become a better team, things seems to go for you a bit more. You listen to managers in the (English) Premier League constantly complaining about the big teams always get the big calls. So maybe you make your own luck, if you like.
“Certainly we’ve come on the wrong end of a few calls since I’ve been here. That’s life. We’ll keep trying to improve as a team and a squad and hopefully things will change.”
Nelsen was diplomatic when asked earlier in the week if Toronto was still paying for its past.
“In all honesty, I don’t really look at those sort of things,” he said. “If we are, we’re in the position because we’re in that position. If that’s the case. We have to take care of what’s happening in our own house and get our standards high … Hopefully in a year’s time, you’ll be interviewing some other poor coach about bad calls that are going Toronto’s way, not his.”
Bendik’s heroics have been hard to miss this season. Against Philadelphia last week, Bendik did everything but stand on his head in 1-1 tie.
He has faced 30 shots this season. Only Chivas’ Kennedy (36) has faced more.
But the six-foot-three goalie sees room for improvement.
“I still have yet to hold a clean sheet,” said the no-nonsense goalie.
Asked why Bendik has been so successful this season, Kerr points to his goalie’s demeanour.
“He’s very calm,” said Kerr, a former Glasgow Celtic ‘keeper. “He won’t get carried away if he does well because he understands the nature of the game. He understands that as a goalkeeper, one game you can be the greatest, the next game you can be the guy selling jerseys. We’re always living on edge as goalkeepers.”
“Goalkeeping-wise, he’s got everything in his locker,” he added. “He can make saves, he can kick a good ball. He can come and take crosses when he’s under pressure. He makes good decisions. And now he’s getting a run. It’s probably the first time in his career where he’s playing week in, week out, which obviously helps because you get in a rhythm.”
It’s been a remarkable start for Bendik in Toronto colours. Acquired in a December trade that saw TFC ship Johnson and goalie Milos Kocic to Portland for Bendik, the third pick in the 2013 SuperDraft (midfielder Kyle Bekker) and allocation money, Bendik had been widely expected to be a backup.
He saw action in just five games (three starts) last year in Portland following two season in Norway with Sogndal.
But when vice-captain Stefan Frei suffered a broken nose in the first pre-season game, Bendik got the nod. He hasn’t looked back since.
“Performances are definitely rewarded,” Bendik said of the current TFC environment. “Especially with (manager) Ryan Nelsen. .. There’s so much competition everywhere, you just can’t have a day off.”
The proof of that is plain to see in the Toronto lineup.
Veteran defender Danny Califf, sidelined for a week by a stomach virus, found himself on the bench upon his return, pushed down the depth chart by 21-year-old Gale Agbossoumonde.
Injuries to Richard Eckersley and Russell opened the door to Ryan Richter last weekend. A suspension to Morgan has further thinned the ranks of fullback, likely giving Richter another chance to impress this Saturday against visiting Houston.
Kerr says Bendik’s performance is no surprise despite his limited MLS resume.
“He played in big games last season and did very very well,” Kerr said. “Joe also went to Norway when he was 19 and played in a first-team environment in the first division. I don’t know many goalkeepers in North America who do that at the age of 19, physically and mentally.”
Kerr reckons Bendik may have slipped under other’s radar, but not Toronto’s.
“We knew if anything happened, he would be ready to step in,” he said.
You’ve seen what he’s done.”
Kerr also noted Frei’s professionalism while Bendik holds down the starter’s jersey.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from Stefan Frei,” said Kerr. “From the moment I met him, he’s a class individual and he’s a class goalkeeper.”
Frei could get his chance finally next week if Nelsen elects to start him in a Canadian Championship game against visiting Montreal.