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Experienced Bendik taking the reins in goal for Philadelphia Union



Photo by Jack Verdeur

Joe Bendik is not Andre Blake. To be fair, not many goalkeepers in MLS are comparable to the Jamaica captain and three-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. When Blake went down with an apparent groin injury early in the first half against the Chicago Fire Saturday night, the veteran Union backup was pressed into action and responded the same way he’s done every time he’s
been called upon in the past, calm and steady.

Bendik preserved the first clean sheet of the league season as the Union found a winner against a shorthanded Fire team that created the better chances prior to the dismissal of Fabian Herbers.

“A shutout’s a shutout,” Bendik told reporters after the game. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how it happens.

That was something we talked about. They had a lot of guys on yellow cards at halftime, and that opened up the game for us and we were able to capitalize.”

Bendik recalled seeing the first collision between Blake and Kei Kamara fifteen minutes in and knew he’d need to get moving.

“He [Blake] struggled with something earlier in the game,” Bendik said. “I had a sense and I told one of our fitness instructors I’d like to come down and warm up, and just because I was freezing and sitting on the bench. So I got a couple runs in which helps.”

Blake’s night was done not long after he backtracked and shuffled across the goal to stop a header from his former teammate Kacper Przybylko. He went straight to the locker room.

“You have to prepare yourself for that moment,” Bendik said, “so it’s unfortunate for him. I honestly don’t even know what he did really, just happy that we were able to dig it out and get the W.”

Despite Chicago pushing the game throughout the opening half, Bendik only had to corral a well-driven cross to the near post in first-half stoppage time. As the Union defense picked up its intensity, playing a man up left Bendik alone waiting for a Chicago counter that never came. Fans shouldn’t be concerned with Bendik’s lack of playing time the past two seasons because he’s been sharp in each of his previous starts.

His only appearance last year came in the Union II’s loss to the New England Revolution II in the MLS Next Pro League over Memorial Day weekend. His three games in 2021 included two starts and an early sub appearance after a Matt Freese red card in a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls. The Union went 1-1-1 in those games, all while Blake was away on international duty. Bendik had two saves in each of his starts, conceding a goal in each game on three shots.

Bendik joined the Union from Columbus in a mid-season trade in 2019 and was between the posts in a Union 3-0 win early that season. Out of his six starts for the Crew that half season, he went 0-5-1, with the lone draw against Chicago. Columbus failed to make the playoffs while the Union reached the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Union fans’ only concerns go back to 2020 when Bendik was called upon to see out a 2-1 win against Chicago after a potentially season-ending hand injury to Blake in the third to last regular season game. Bendik had a few nervy moments in that game as the Union were put under tremendous pressure, followed by a shaky performance in a 2-1 loss to Columbus days later.

To his credit, he responded well to the criticism and more than redeemed himself with solid performances ever since. It wasn’t much of a surprise when the Union re-signed Bendik this offseason to a one-year deal. With the team carrying two backups capable of starting on most teams behind the best goalkeeper in the league, time was expected to be limited.

Freese became the preferred second choice as his development warranted extended action. He started the U.S. Open Cup loss to Orlando last season and played 15 games for the Union II. In 2021, he made 6 starts and was in goal for the Union’s 2-1 loss to New York City FC in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, it made more practical sense to move Freese, which the Union did this offseason, trading him to NYCFC where he’s competing with veteran Luis Barraza for the starting spot after the departure of longtime captain Sean Johnson to Toronto. And now with Blake’s injury timetable in doubt,

Bendik should expect to see extended time, more so than in any of his last three seasons.

“Obviously he’ll get an MRI,” Union coach Jim Curtin said about Blake after the Chicago game. “With a groin injury, I always fear the worst. Andre has been a quick healer in the past. I don’t want to speculate too much until we get pictures but he felt his groin go. Sometimes these things take a week, sometimes they take four weeks, sometimes they take eight weeks.”

The move leaves Bendik, the Union’s next man up, in charge of the league’s best defense through the next two weeks, or more depending on the severity of Blake’s injury. He’ll get the nod for today’s CCL second leg against Alianza and likely the next two games at CF Montréal and home versus Orlando City, a club where he earned his most appearances. Bendik played in 92 games for the Lions from 2016 to 2018. As the regular starter, he posted 5 clean sheets in 2016 and 7 in 2017. In total, Bendik has played in 182 games, going back to his early days with the Portland Timbers.

His role could extend well into April, where the Union will have five league games in addition to a potential four more if they’re able to reach the CCL semifinals. With the new CCL format and expanded field beginning next fall, this year’s competition has been compressed to the spring, which could give Bendik plenty of time to find a regular rhythm should Blake not be fit to

“Joe has 100-plus games under his belt,” Curtin said, “so he stepped in and did a good job for us tonight, wasn’t tested a ton, but it’s still difficult to come in cold to a game.”

The positive for the Union is that Alianza only managed two shots on goal on a choppy field at the Estadio Cuscatlán against a team of mainly Union reserves. Most would expect to see Curtin roll out a more veteran side with advancement to the quarterfinals achievable with a single goal victory.

For now, the Union’s roster building will be put to it strongest test. “That’s why you have good experience guys,” Curtin added. “That’s why your depth will be challenged every week and throughout the course of the year. It’s a good opportunity for Joe to step up.”

Greg Oldfield is a teacher, coach, and writer from the Philadelphia area. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in Barrelhouse, Maudlin House, Carve, and the Under Review, among others. He also writes for the Florida Cup and Florida Citrus Sports. In 2023, he received an award for Best Column from the United Soccer Coaches for his story "A Philadelphia Soccer Hollywood Story." His work can also be found at

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