Patience, persistence prove Caps' Brad Knighton is a keeper
Backup netminder made it his goal to be No. 1 on an MLS team, and now he is
Brad Knighton can testify to the notion that hard work and patience usually get rewarded.
He’s living proof.
Until September, the only game Knighton started in goal for the Vancouver Whitecaps was as a replacement for then-suspended starting goalkeeper Joe Cannon.
The 27-year-old Virginian played well in backstopping the Caps to a 2-1 home win over Real Salt Lake in August but Cannon got his starting job back the next match.
But the team went on a three-game losing skid, prompting head coach Martin Rennie to tweak his lineup and give Knighton a shot as starting goalkeeper — 28 games into a 34-game season.
He has kept the spot for 1½ months now and expects to start his sixth straight game for the Whitecaps on Sunday afternoon when they host Portland. A Caps victory will clinch a playoff spot.
“The team and the coaching staff have really gotten behind me and that has given me a huge boost,” Knighton said Tuesday after the Whitecaps trained at Swangard Stadium in Burnaby. “My confidence is sky high now and I’m just looking to build on that.”
Knighton played every game for Rennie’s Tier 2 NASL Carolina RailHawks last season after a four-year Major League Soccer career that saw him start just 14 MLS games with New England and Philadelphia.
His confidence wasn’t exactly sky high after Philadelphia released him last year and no MLS team picked him up. That’s when Rennie came calling.
“He stepped up and said he wanted me to be his goalkeeper and that shows the belief he has in me,” Knighton said. “Everybody just shrugged me off and this is my opportunity to prove them wrong.”
Rennie said his decision to switch goalkeepers this summer was part of a bigger plan to shake up a roster that needed change, noting he also inserted midfielders Matt Watson and Russell Teibert when he changed goalkeepers.
“They have all been pretty prominent since then,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure that everyone was on their toes and fighting for a place on the team. Players need to know that if they do well in training, they can earn a spot.”
Rennie said players often “talk a good game” and ask why they don’t play but Knighton didn’t talk too much about his lack of playing time this season.
“He just showed it when he got the chance,” he said.
Knighton insists his resolve never wavered this season, despite being a backup for most of the year.
“My attitude here has been the same since day one — to train as if I’m going to play on the weekend,” he said. “I came with the mentality every week that I’m going to be No. 1 unless Martin decides otherwise.”
Knighton said hard work with goalkeeping coach Marius Rovde this year has helped him improve several aspects of his game — including his distribution and the way he reads the game.
“I really try to work hard and do the small things well and not take anything for granted because we’re all replaceable,” he said.
Rennie said Knighton has improved his shot stopping this year and likes his command of the box and the way he handles crosses.
“Joe (Cannon) is a great goalkeeper, too — and unfortunate not to be in the (starting lineup), just like Brad was unfortunate earlier in the season,” he said. “They have both handled their situations really well and with a lot of respect.”
Knighton said patience is a virtue in MLS, especially among goalkeepers.
“A lot of very good goalkeepers in this league have to wait,” he said. “Matt Reis waited five years to get his full-time gig in New England and I’m sure many others have been in the same situation.”
SIDE KICKS: Caps’ striker Kenny Miller played the final 14 minutes for Scotland in his country’s 2-0 loss to Belgium on Tuesday, all but eliminating Scotland from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Miller is expected to be in the Whitecaps lineup against the Timbers on Sunday.
GAME DAY: Sunday, 4 p.m.
LOCATION: BC Place Stadium
OPPONENT: Portland Timbers
RADIO: Team 1410
TV: OMNI B.C.
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