Goalkeeper Bendik winning over TFC fans

Toronto FC goalkeeper Joe Bendik makes a save earlier this year. Bendik's performance in goal in...

Toronto FC goalkeeper Joe Bendik makes a save earlier this year. Bendik's performance in goal in four short months since taking over as the No. 1 'keeper is winning the hearts of the TFC faithful and making them forget about Stefan Frei. (QMI Agency/Files)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:13 AM ET

TORONTO - If you still don’t believe in Toronto FC ’keeper Joe Bendik, you’re as rational as a 9-11 truther.

That, or you’re a Stefan Frei loyalist who can’t come to terms with the fact TFC’s new No. 1 has done enough in four short months to earn the respect of a disgruntled, if not impatient, fanbase.

Until Saturday’s win over D.C. United — TFC’s first win in 11 league games — Bendik’s game-changing saves were always masked by the late-game gaffes of his teammates, plays that overshadowed his all-star calibre performances every time out.

Looking back, TFC wouldn’t have topped Sporting KC had it not been for Bendik’s second-half save off a header from C.J. Sapong.

Two games later, Bendik’s game-saving stop on the Galaxy’s Mike Magee kept things respectable.

As mentioned, though, all was forgotten when the Galaxy’s Jose Villareal tied the match in second-half stoppage.

Similarly, the Reds would have departed Philadelphia empty-handed had TFC’s 24-year-old netminder not saved the day in the 97th minute.

“When you’re away from home you have to ask your goalkeeper to come up big occasionally,” head coach Ryan Nelsen said following TFC’s 2-1 win on Saturday.

Coming up big — occasionally — is one thing, but Bendik’s performances have been of a different brand.

“I wouldn’t swap (Bendik) for anyone in this league,” Nelsen said.

Nope, not even one-time golden boy Frei.

“Joe’s been doing that from the start,” Nelsen said of his first-choice keeper’s performance on the weekend. “He’s a dominant personality who’s got a huge future in the game.”

It seems the future’s already here.

PRAISE FOR LABA

Like Bendik, new-boy Matias Laba has his detractors.

And, despite a standout performance at RFK Stadium over the weekend, likely still does.

That number, however, is at least starting to shrink.

“Matias Laba was exceptional,” Nelsen reiterated. “Absolutely exceptional.”

Not that they’re needed, but the numbers back up the New Zealander’s claim.

Through 90 minutes on the weekend, Laba completed 90% of his passes.

Perhaps more impressive was the work the 20-year-old Argentine did without the ball.

In addition to recovering possession 13 times, Laba intercepted three of United’s passes in what was a fantastic bill of work in the defensive end.

The number of fouls he sustained (five) is a testament to how involved he was as compared to past weeks.

When general manager Kevin Payne announced Laba as the club’s newest Designate Player, he described him as midfield engine, capable of recovering possession and initiating the pass that starts the play.

At D.C., Laba was all of the above.

OFFENSIVE WOES PERSIST

Lost in the rave reviews from the weekend is the fact the Reds registered one shot on goal — Robert Earnshaw’s opener.

And that has people wondering when and where Danny Koevermans might get the chance to start alongside Earnshaw up top.

“I feel great, ready to play again,” said Koevermans, who never reveals much when given the opportunity.

“It’s been a while,” he said of scoring. “I still have the same feeling. It doesn’t matter how it goes in — off my shoulder or off my nose. If it goes it, it’s a goal.”

The Reds found that out Saturday when they used a Daniel Woolard own goal to grab their second win in 28 league games.

THIS AND THAT

A missed tidbit over the weekend, Dwayne De Rosario’s 102nd MLS goal, his seventh in eight game against TFC, moved him in front of Taylor Twellman for sixth all-time. Former TFC boo-boy and MLS journeyman Jeff Cunningham currently holds the record (134) while the L.A. Galaxy’s Landon Donovan is the leader (127) among active MLSers … Interesting comments from D.C. United head honcho Dave Kasper, who told the Washington Post following his side’s loss to TFC that he’s confident head coach Ben Olsen will right the ship. “We’re not giving up on the playoffs,” Kasper told the paper. “In our league, anything is possible. It’s certainly a big challenge, but one we are ready to face. Uh, sorry, Mr. Kasper, United looked out of ideas against a below-average — but improving — TFC on the weekend, extending United’s winless run to 13 MLS matches.


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