CHESTER, Pa. — Across the road from the Philadelphia Union’s training field sits a trailer in the Sons of Ben supporters lot with pictures of goalkeeper Joe Bendik’s face.
The recently-acquired Union goalkeeper has been one of the more notable players to draw attention from the passionate fans in The River End, and now he is one of theirs. Last week, the Union acquired Bendik through a trade with Columbus Crew SC, in which the Union gave up a second round 2020 SuperDraft pick for the veteran goalkeeper’s services.
The banter between Bendik and the Union fans began in 2013, when he let in a game-winning free-kick to Kleberson in second-half stoppage time as a member of Toronto FC.
“It starts with Kleberson’s free kick in 2013 against TFC when Bendik just watched the ball go over the wall and into the net,” Sons of Ben tifo maker Ryan Bross said. “Earl Gardner got a great photo of Bendik just watch it with a slack jaw face because there was nothing he could do.”
In April 2016, Tranquillo Barnetta hit a free kick that almost replicated Kleberson’s by striking the set piece into the right side of the net past an exasperated Bendik.
“The one in April 2016, Barnetta took a free kick from almost the same spot and again in the last minutes of the game,” Bross said. “Again, Bendik watches the ball go over the wall and into his net, and again Earl got a great shot.”
“I’ve played a lot of games (at Talen Energy Stadium),” Bendik said. “I’ve been on the bad side of a few, been on the good side of a few. I have nothing but positives aside from a couple late game-winning free kicks from world-class players, but it is what it is and I’m all for it.”
In between his first free-kick concession against the Union in 2013 and the trade made to acquire him on Friday, Bendik has had a good sense of humor dealing with the Sons of Ben, who even printed out cutouts of the face he made after the free kicks for a game when the goalkeeper played for Orlando City.
“The year we played Orlando twice at home, for the second game we printed out the faces from Earl’s photos and I made then into fat heads that we held up in The River End,” Bross said. “Unfortunately the Union lost that game, but Bendik was a good sport about it and signed the fat heads.”
— SoB Tifo (@SoBTifo) March 23, 2019
“Some supporters are going to be supporters, they support their club and screw everyone else,” Bendik said. “They were welcoming (on Saturday) and we had a little laugh and joke about it there. I saw a couple guys in the stands saying it would take them a little bit of time to really accept me, but I’m just going to compete and work hard and be my passionate self.”
During Bendik’s last visit to Talen Energy Stadium with the Columbus Crew in March, the Sons of Ben unveiled a banner beneath their seating area with the hashtag BendikFace written in white behind the goal.
“After warmups, one of the academy players acting as a ball kid pointed out the banner and pictures to Bendik as he was leaving the field and he kind of just laughed and shook his head,” Bross said.
“I’ve always thought the supporters here are great,” Bendik said. “I’ve played here on a Wednesday night, on a Sunday, on a Saturday afternoon and it’s always a pretty consistent crowd and the Sons of Ben they bring it. I think that’s just really important as a player. When you’ve got the support at your back and you’ve got everybody together pushing, it makes a massive difference.”
— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) July 19, 2019
Bendik was brought in by the Union to fill the void left on the goalkeeper depth chart that was opened by Carlos Miguel Coronel’s early loan termination and return to Red Bull Salzburg.
Even in his short time with the club, Bendik has been impressed with the mentality the Union have displayed, especially in Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire.
“It’s only the first day (of training Tuesday) so I’m still getting to know them and everything,” Bendik said. “I thought the game was a better example. You have a couple guys coming off the bench and (Anthony Fontana) scoring a goal. Great start to the game, really positive start to the second half. I thought we closed out the game well. You can see why we’re at the top. It was a good mentality, culture and character from the guys. Those things give you depth.”
Bendik is expected to back up Andre Blake for the rest of the season. Homegrown Player Matt Freese, who is currently out injured, is expected to receive the bulk of his minutes at USL Championship affiliate Bethlehem Steel when he returns to full fitness.
“It’s been a quick turnaround, but I’m happy to be here,” Bendik said. “I think there’s some really positive things here. Obviously the results have shown at the top of the table so I’m just going to try to work hard and compete and push this team to finish out strong and be flying when we hit the playoffs.”