Knighton returns to MLS to compete for spot in Vancouver

Knighton looking to earn playing time

Competition breeds success.

Last week, Vancouver Whitecaps FC brought in Brad Knighton to provide a challenger to incumbent No. 1 goalkeeper Joe Cannon. Days later, the battle for the starting spot between the sticks when the season kicks off against Montreal Impact is already underway.

Just don’t expect Knighton to issue any public challenges. He’s squarely focused on earning an opportunity on the training field.

“It’s not in my control,” Knighton told TEAM 1410 radio in Vancouver on Tuesday about the potential of winning the starting job. “The only thing that I control is to come in here with a positive mentality day in, day out, train hard and make it difficult for the coaching staff to pick a starter week in, week out.”

Knighton, 26, joined Vancouver in large part because of head coach Martin Rennie. The Richmond, Virginia, native played every minute for Rennie and the RailHawks in 2011, helping the club win the NASL regular season title, and is hoping to bring that sort of form to Vancouver.

Knighton was Matt Reis’ back-up with New England Revolution for three seasons before joining Philadelphia Union for their 2010 expansion season.

The Union released him a year ago, but after seeing significant playing time in the second tier, Knighton feels he’s grown as a player.

“I don’t dwell on the past,” he told TEAM 1410. “It was tough seeing it then, but it was the best thing that happened to me. I was able to come to Carolina rather quickly and get games under my belt. That’s one thing I hadn’t had in four years of MLS experience. Sitting on the bench, you’re not getting better day in and day out. You’re more of a training player.

“I was fortunate enough to go to Carolina, play 30 games in a row and get my confidence up and put some good games together,” he added. “Obviously, the opportunity presented itself to come back into the league, and I’m very fortunate about that as well.”

But despite his connections with Rennie, Knighton has a lot to do to budge starter Cannon, a two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and a former MLS Cup champion.

The veteran, who showed glimpses of his quality after winning the starting job from Jay Nolly, claims his biggest opponent at this stage of his career – he just turned 37 this month – is father time and his own body.

“Jay and I pushed each other a lot [last season],” Cannon told TEAM 1410. “The new guys here are going to do more of the same. Brad and Andrew [Fontein] both seem like great guys. … So it should be great, but at the same time, with my experience level, the battle is really me vs. me in that sense.”

Despite preseason being only two days young, Cannon and Knighton will no doubt bond quickly, as they endure drills from the club’s rigorous goalkeeper coach Marius Rovde. The Norwegian coach regularly tells reporters he wants his goalkeepers to be the fittest players on the team.

“He thinks we’re going slowly in, but I think we’re pretty much fully fledged two days in,” Knighton told TEAM 1410. “The legs are burning a little bit but that’s always a good thing – it means you’re working hard.”

Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.

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