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Suspension leads to goalkeeper change for Toronto FC, but for how long

07/16/2015 06:28 EDT | Updated 07/16/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Chris Konopka waited a long time to get his chance in goal.

The big man with the big beard played just twice in his first five MLS seasons. But after backing up Toronto FC starter Joe Bendik for the first six games of the 2015 campaign, Konopka got his shot when Bendik went down with a foot injury.

Eleven games later, Konopka was still playing. With a now healthy Bendik watching from the bench.

Thanks to a questionable suspension — at least in Toronto eyes — Konopka has to sit out Saturday's game against the visiting Philadelphia Union. That opens the door to Bendik.

Konopka, who was also fined, was handed the one-game ban by the MLS disciplinary committee for "serious foul play that endangered the safety of an opponent."

The incident occurred in the 59th minute of Toronto's 4-4 tie with New York City FC on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Konopka brought down Andoni Iraola as the Spaniard raced into the six-yard box.

The Toronto 'keeper appeared to kick out his legs in taking Iraola down, although that might just have been a result of Konopka sliding across the turf. There was no foul on the play although Iraola was booked a minute later when, after getting treatment, he returned to the field without permission from the referee.

Both Bendik and Konopka know all about the vagaries of goalkeeping. Bendik took over as No. 1 in 2103 when starter Stefan Frei — now turning heads in the Seattle goal — was injured in pre-season.

Toronto has been conceding goals by the bucket recently but Konopka has not been to blame. He faced two penalties Sunday, stopping one only to see the rebound knocked in. The week before, Toronto conceded four in Los Angeles where the Galaxy have been putting up big scores.

The six-foot-five Konopka was rusty when he took over from Bendik but has grown in confidence, showing he can hold his own in MLS. Plus the team was winning with him in goal.

But Bendik is also a No. 1 goalkeeper, a fine shot-stopper who did not deserve to lose his job to injury.

While the suspension may just be an odd form of karma, that didn't stop Konopka, Bendik or coach Greg Vanney crying foul.

"I disagree with it," said Vanney. "I think it's just a standard play that you see almost in every game ... There was no intent to injure the player. The player was so healthy that 20 seconds later he sprinted on the field without being invited back into the field to break up a play that was a transition for us."

"Very harsh," echoed Bendik

"Obviously the league, I guess, saw something in the play that both teams and even the ref at the time didn't see," Konopka said diplomatically. "You just have to deal with it and go forward."

Konopka's record this year in goal is 5-3-3. Bendik was 2-4-0 but all six of those starts were on the road.

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