Julio Cesar may be Toronto FC’s number one keeper at the moment, but in Joe Bendik, head coach Ryan Nelsen has another starting option to mind the net.
Nelsen says he has already seen plenty of improvement in Bendik’s play just from practicing alongside Julio Cesar.
“What I notice is just the small things, the tiny things, his angles, his explosiveness, his getting off the ground,” Nelsen said during a training session on Thursday. “It’s little things I can comment on and judge. The improvement is brilliant.”
With Julio Cesar, Michael Bradley and perhaps Jermain Defoe looking forward towards the FIFA World Cup in the summer, it will be Bendik who will step in to mind the posts. Nelsen said he expects his World Cup-bound players to stay with the team until the middle of May.
Bendik is confident and ready to embrace the starting role in that time period.
“I played 33 games last year and I’ve had time here to get my hands in,” Bendik said. “It’ll be good to play Vancouver twice in the Amway Cup and from there that will lead me into the middle of the season, so yeah, very confident.”
Goalkeeper coach Stewart Kerr has worked with Bendik, Julio Cesar and Chris Konopka for several weeks now, and echoed Nelsen’s assessment, saying Bendik has indeed improved since last season. Specifically, Kerr pointed out that Bendik’s distribution has improved, but added that Bendik’s distribution was “really good to begin with anyway.”
“I think Joe has always had that ability,” Kerr told MLSsoccer.com. “When you bring in a world-class goalkeeper like Julio Cesar, I think that drives you on, and I think Julio would be the first to admit as well, he’s learned some things off Joe.”
Bendik himself sees improvements in his own game, too.
“I think my footwork and playing out of the back [has improved],” Bendik told MLSsoccer.com. “We’ve been working on it so much. You’re not able to actually do that until you see somebody as good as him do it in training. I definitely feel more comfortable with the ball at my feet.”
Practicing alongside a Brazilian international provides Bendik with a chance to learn from an elite player in his position, a chance he says is also a learning experience every week.
“Every day I watch [Julio Cesar] train and I pick up something from him,” Bendik said. “We talk every single day. I learn from mistakes that he’s made. He always says that he’s made mistakes all career long so I need to learn from them.”
“It’s been amazing,” Bendik added. “He was an idol when I was a child so it’s incredible to work with him. He has two kids, I met both his kids and his personality is very professional. He’s 34 years old and he looks 29!”