With less than two weeks left before Orlando City SC opens its fourth MLS season with a match against D.C. United, goalkeeper Joe Bendik said the group is coming together.
“We’re trying to jell as a team so that opening day we’re ready to go,” he said. “Not only that, but we’re able to continue, throughout the course of the season, gaining some really good habits. Guys are really eager and it’s going to be a fun season.”
Bendik is entering in third season with the Lions. The stalwart goalkeeper has missed just one regular season match in two seasons with the club.
A few of the key additions Orlando City has made before the start of the season have been new pieces for the back line, and head coach Jason Kreis has said the group is working on its communication.
New left back Mohammed El-Munir said all of the team’s goalkeepers have been helping with communication during preseason training.
“Everyone must speak,” El-Munir said. “Everyone must communicate together. Everyone must help each other.”
Bendik said it’s up to the players on the field to “put it all together.”
“We’re still jelling, like I said,” Bendik said.
“We have some very good pieces. The front office, ownership, Jason, they’ve done an incredible job to bring them all here. I think it gives us a good depth and a good competition within our team to move forward and to play 34 games at a really high level.”
Things were pretty lighthearted after Thursday’s training session.
UFC fighter Raquel Pennington, who is in town for Tecia Torres’ fight against Jessica Andrade in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night at Amway Center on Saturday, spent some time with Orlando City’s goalkeepers and goalkeeper coach Tim Mulqueen after Thursday’s training was over.
Bendik gave Pennington some goalkeeper gloves and an Orlando City SC jersey with her name on it.
Pennington, who is training for a May fight in Brazil, took penalty kicks against Joe Bendik, who was wearing UFC gloves. Her first attempt went high, but he had to dive to save the second one. The third went right to him and was saved easily.
The two swapped spots and Pennington tried to save penalty kicks from Bendik. That didn’t go in Pennginton’s favor.
“I can get punched in the face, but listen, when they’re kicking soccer balls at me, it’s not my thing,” Pennington said with a laugh.
After the soccer demonstration was over, Pennington demonstrated some choking techniques on goalkeeper coach Tim Mulqueen – at Mulqueen’s request.
“They might be big and they might be strong, but as you can tell … they didn’t like it too much,” she said. “But then, also, I couldn’t hang with them on the soccer field.”
Lions on ESPN six times
Orlando City SC will be on ESPN six times this season, which is tied for the league high with the Seattle Sounders, Atlanta United FC and Los Angeles FC.
The Lions’ first ESPN appearance will be at 4 p.m. April 8 against the Portland Timbers. The game will be played in Orlando.
Other Orlando City nationally broadcast games include a game at the Philadelphia Union (8 p.m., April 13), at the Colorado Rapids (4 p.m., April 29), at Atlanta United (7 p.m., June 30), a home game against NYCFC (8 p.m., July 26) and a home game against Atlanta (8 p.m., Aug. 24).
Colmán, Laryea running
Midfielder Josué Colmán (quad contusion) and Richie Laryea (Grade 1 adductor strain) were both at Thursday’s training session, but they were running separately from the team.
Kreis said he expected to see Colmán running this week. He added he hopes to see Colmán back at full training starting next week.
Jose Villareal was also running separately from the team on Thursday. Striker Dom Dwyer (Grade 1 quad strain) was not at Thursday’s outdoor training session.