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article imageJoe Bendik's second half heroics lift Toronto FC past Whitecaps

By Tyrrell Meertins     May 15, 2014 in Sports
With all the positive aspects associated with the arrivals of Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley and Julio Cesar, Toronto FC has been forced into making a few sacrifices.
The sale of Matias Laba decreased their strength in midfield, whereas Cesar’s signing has pushed former starting goalkeeper Joe Bendik to the bench.
For a side that struggles to retain possession, it’s pivotal to have a reliable goalkeeper at your disposal because the likelihood of conceding more goal-scoring opportunities is high. Cesar has failed to produce a top-class performance since joining the Toronto club, and the Brazilian was given a rest in the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal tie before he departs for the World Cup. However, this enabled Bendik to show his credentials –– specifically in the second half –– against the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place.
Doneil Henry’s opening goal in the third minute set the tempo of the match as the Whitecaps had to score twice to force extra-time. Once TFC took the lead they were keen on allowing the Whitecaps to dictate possession. Ryan Nelsen made several changes to his starting lineup, and he opted to rest Jermain Defoe ahead of Saturday’s clash against the New York Redbulls. Carl Robinson, though, made two changes to the side that lost the first leg at BMO Field by including Pedro Morales and Kekuta Manneh, as Kianz Foreze and Marco Bustos were away on international duty with the Canadian U-20 team.
Manneh’s pace and Morales’ creativity offered the Whitecaps a different element of attack, and TFC’s reactive approach enabled the duo to impact the match. The latter was the game’s most proactive outfield player as he exposed the weaknesses within TFC’s generic 4-4-2 formation. Morales dropped deep into midfield to serve as an additional passing outlet, while exploiting space between the lines and in wide areas to receive the ball. Nelsen’s side dropped into two narrow banks of four when the Whitecaps maintained possession, and he instructed newcomer Luke Moore to press Russell Teibert when he received the ball in deep positions.
Still, with Henry and Bradley Orr negating Erik Hurtado’s threat through the channels, the Whitecaps relied on Morales’ appreciation of space to guide them forward. Similarly, this was identical to Real Salt Lake midfielder Javier Morales’ performance against TFC in which the Reds failed to cope with the playmaker’s threat in the final third.
The 28-year-old attacking midfielder created the Whitecaps’ best chances in the first half. First, the Chilean received the ball from Manneh between the lines, and Morales played a pass into the path of the 19-year-old but he fired his shot wide of the net. Minutes later, Morales received the ball on the right flank –– near the half-way line –– and glided towards the 18-yard box before combining with Nicolas Mezquida, which ultimately led to Manneh firing his effort over the net from six-yards out. Equally, Morales’ presence was significant on the defensive end as his goal-line clearance prevented Nick Hagglund from doubling TFC’s lead.
However, TFC were punished for their naivety towards Morales’ freedom in the final third. The Chilean picked up a loose ball near the halfway line and chipped it over the TFC defence to an onrushing Hurtado, and the 23-year-old striker confidently slotted his shot past Bendik.
The pace in the second half was frenetic, and Gilberto received two glorious opportunities to end his goal-scoring drought. Bradley’s inch-perfect pass into the path of Gilberto was swept up by 17-year-old goalkeeper Marco Carducci. Subsequently, the Brazilian failed to provide an end product following his breathtaking individual run that played him clear on goal. Likewise, Moore was unable to replicate his positive first half display –– that saw him comfortably hold up the ball and link play with the midfield –– as the striker was an isolated figured upfront, with the Whitecaps pushing TFC deeper into their half.
But Morales influence on the match decreased in the second half, which limited the home sides threat in the final third. Consequently, the Whitecaps’ best chances were created on the break; the main issue with TFC’s system is they commit too many men forward –– specifically their two centre midfielders –– and when they concede possession, they’re overrun on the counter-attack.
Robinson turned to his bench for additional attacking impetus as he introduced Laba for Bryce Alderson, while Sebastian Fernandez replaced Christian Dean as the Whitecaps enforced a three-man defence.
Nonetheless, TFC coped with the Whitecaps’ superiority in possession, but an unwarranted Henry foul on Hurtado in the box awarded the home side a penalty, and Morales comfortably converted his spot-kick past Bendik. Manneh’s pace and Morales’ movement into the space behind the TFC midfield duo created opportunities for Robinson’s men to win the two-legged tie, but Bendik’s brave goalkeeping prevented the Whitecaps from doubling their lead. On three occasions subsequent to Morales’ goal, the American goalkeeper came off his line and denied Manneh –– for the second time –– Morales, and Hurtado to force extra-time.
The Whitecaps reverted back to a four-man defence by pushing Teibert to left-back, and they continued to exploit space behind TFC’s midfield duo. Morales and Fernandez both received the ball behind the duo to ignite a swift attack in extra-time, but the latter couldn’t beat Bendik. TFC equally received their fair share of chances as substitute Daniel Lovitz’s direct threat down the left flank was positive, while Dwayne De Rosario’s shot from distance skimmed the post in the final minutes.
“I think everybody can take a lot of confidence from this performance,” said Teibert. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the result we wanted, but we did win and there’s a lot we take out of this performance to build on for the rest of the season.”
TFC’s approach was borderline suicidal following Henry’s goal, and the Reds nearly paid the price. Bendik’s key saves in the second half kept TFC in the match, and his penalty save in the shootout ensured the Reds a place in the finals against the Montreal Impact.
“Joe was very good,” Nelsen told Vancouver reporters. “You’ve got to be when you’re playing away from home, you want your goalkeeper to come up big, and he came up big a couple of times.”
Bendik’s man-of-the-match performance was the difference, and with Cesar departing for the World Cup this month the 25-year-old will receive the opportunity to regain his starting spot.
Frankly, he deserves it.
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