Vancouver Whitecaps FC will be missing No. 1 goalkeeper Joe Cannon against Real Salt Lake on Saturday (4 p.m. PT, on Sportsnet Pacific and Team 1410 radio), but they’ve got confidence in his replacement.
With the veteran suspended, reserve Brad Knighton will fill in as Vancouver’s last line of defence against an RSL side sitting second on overall points in MLS with 42, and in the midst of a CONCACAF Champions League campaign.
Unlike some back-up 'keepers, Knighton is experienced despite playing only 16 MLS matches in his career. Last season, the 27-year-old played 28 matches for Carolina RailHawks in the second-tier North American Soccer League, so he is used to a starting role and the pressure that comes with it.
“You can see he’s stepping into that role of a No. 1 pretty easily,” captain Jay DeMerit said on Thursday of Knighton, who has played with the starting group in scrimmage matches in preparation for his start. “It starts with his communication and his presence in the box – any ‘keeper that has a good presence in the box can normally get the job done. He’s definitely been doing that for us this week and now he has to do it for us this Saturday when it counts.”
Knighton has made two MLS appearances for Vancouver this season – first stepping in for an injured Cannon on March 17 in the club’s first-ever MLS away win against Chivas USA, and once again coming on for Cannon because of a red card in Vancouver’s 2-1 loss to RSL on July 27.
WATCH: Cannon shown red for handling
The Richmond, Virginia, native also helped Vancouver reach the finals of the Canadian Championship by starting both legs of the semifinal match-up against FC Edmonton.
“That’s the role of a No. 2,” DeMerit said. “When he’s been called upon, even this year, to come in and do the job, he’s made some good saves for us, so we’ll look for him to do that. He’s a good talker in the box, he comes off his line really well, he’s aggressive as well, so we’re going to need him to do that against a good Salt Lake team on Saturday.”
As for the former New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union goalkeeper, he’s just glad to get a chance to show what he can do – and he’s sticking with his normal routine.
“I really haven’t tried to do anything differently,” Knighton said on Thursday. “It’s the same game. I’ve had reserve games, the Canadian Championship, and then I’ve played two appearances in MLS. Obviously it’s the first start, so you’re going to have a lot of emotions going and whatnot. But I’m just trying to prepare as I would before a normal week, even if I were playing behind Joe.
“I’ll just try and do the small things right," Knighton added, "and the rest will take care of itself.”
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.