As Brad Knighton prepares for the next chapter of his career, the goalkeeper will look back on his time with the Vancouver Whitecaps with mixed feelings.
Now property of the New England Revolution after a trade this week, the 28-year-old speaks of his time in the Pacific Northwest fondly – but is frank about the disappointment he felt at times after winning the starting goalkeeper job on two occasions over his two seasons, only to lose it shortly after in each instance.
“I felt like I deserved my full run of games, but other people saw it a different way,” Knighton told MLSsoccer.com by phone Thursday. “But it's made me more mentally tough and you need that. … The sky's the limit next year.”
It's clear that Knighton is appreciative to the Whitecaps and former head coach Martin Rennie for the chance to return to Major League Soccer after a year down with the Carolina RailHawks in the NASL.
But equally, his time in Vancouver had its challenges. In 2012, Knighton served primarily as then-starting netminder Joe Cannon's backup, only to win the job in August and keep the shirt for the stretch drive and the club's first-ever match in the MLS Cup Playoffs – a first-round defeat to the LA Galaxy, who would go on to win the title.
In that match, Knighton was exceptional despite the result.
So it came as a surprise to many observers when Rennie demoted Knighton to backup at the beginning of the 2013 campaign, citing a strong preseason from Cannon.
“Coming into MLS and getting my feet off the ground [in Vancouver] was great,” Knighton said. “Martin gave me the opportunity to do that and I felt like I established myself at the end of my first year in Vancouver and was capable of being a No. 1.”
Despite Rennie's decision, Knighton maintained a professional approach and bided his time.
Once again this past season, the Richmond, Va., native would become the starter – albeit for a brief period, taking over from Cannon in mid-May, and playing 11 consecutive matches before Rennie turned to his third starter of the season in new signing David Ousted.
“Winning the starting job back and then taking the team and doing well in the games I did, to be called into Martin's office and him say, 'Hey, we're looking to bring in another goalkeeper.’ … It was like, 'OK, well he's going to come in here and compete,'” Knighton said. “But obviously he had to wait for his certificates and everything to clear, so I knew I was going to get my run of games and get a chance to prove that I'm a No. 1 for this team and in this league.
“I felt like I did that with the games I played.”
Still, while the in-and-out nature of his time in Vancouver was challenging at times, Knighton insists he's the better for it, and now hopes to carry on the experience he's had from intense competition over the past couple of seasons into 2014 as a member of the Revolution.
“Maybe the way things played out and me not starting the season, it just made me that much stronger,” Knighton said. “… I'm looking to put a good run of games together and play a full season as a starter.”
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com.