Back Where It All Began: Knighton returns, expected to compete for starting job
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – On the same day the New England Revolution bid adieu to retiring legend Matt Reis, the club reached into its past to address its goalkeeping future, acquiring Brad Knighton from Vancouver Whitecaps FC in exchange for a conditional 2015 SuperDraft pick.
Knighton began his professional career in New England, joining the club as an undrafted rookie in 2007 and spending three seasons with the Revolution before being selected by the Philadelphia Union in the 2009 MLS Expansion Draft. The 28-year-old goalkeeper made a pit-stop with the Carolina RailHawks (NASL) in between stints with Philly and Vancouver, but now he’s thrilled to return to the place it all began.
“The opportunity presented itself and I didn’t think twice about it,” said Knighton. “This is the place where I started my career. We had a lot of fond memories and good times, and we have a lot of family and friends that are still up there. We’re looking forward to getting back, seeing everybody and being part of an organization that’s on the rise.”
With Reis hanging up his boots after 11 seasons in New England, Knighton is expected to challenge Bobby Shuttleworth for the Revolution’s starting goalkeeper job. Shuttleworth started 22 games for the Revolution last season – pushing Reis into a backup role for much of the year – and garnered MLS All-Star consideration after a stellar first half of the 2013 campaign.
“[Head coach Jay Heaps] has been upfront since day one; he wants me to come in and compete for the job with Bobby,” said Knighton. “That’s all you can ask for is an opportunity to come in and compete and have an opportunity to play.”
The pair will be competing for minutes when preseason camp opens in late January, but Knighton believes that’ll simply bring the best out of both goalkeepers. Shuttleworth was the third-string ‘keeper and Knighton the backup during Knighton’s final season with the Revs in 2009 and the duo formed a close bond.
“Bobby and I have a great relationship, which is also key to having a good competitive relationship,” said Knighton, who added that he’s chatted with Shuttleworth in recent weeks. “We both know what we’re walking into and I really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Knighton and Shuttleworth share a common bond through Reis, who was a veteran mentor for both young goalkeepers during their first few years in the professional ranks.
“I think me and Bobby are where we are today because of Matt,” Knighton said. “I think Matt contributed a lot to our growth and development as young goalkeepers. I’ve given full credit to Matt my entire career. I don’t think I’d be where I am without him and the tutelage that I had the first three years I was there.”
Another of Knighton’s mentors as a young pro was Heaps, whom he often roomed with on road trips. As Heaps now enters his third year as a head coach coming off a season in which he guided the Revolution back into the playoffs, Knighton is excited for the opportunity to continue learning from his former teammate.
“Jay’s personality carries over from him being a player to what I’ve seen of him being a coach,” said Knighton. “He wears his heart on his sleeve and he gets the best out of the guys that are around him. As you saw from this year and the previous year, the guys buy into what he’s doing and they’ve been very successful.”
Knighton now aims to be part of that success. He feels he’s grown tremendously since leaving New England as an inexperienced 24-year-old in 2009, and after sporadic stints as an MLS starter in Philadelphia and Vancouver, he’s ready to return to New England in a veteran role.
“Every circumstance that you go through only makes you that much stronger,” Knighton said. “I’m looking forward to bringing back a leadership role and asserting myself in this team and becoming one of the guys that helps lead this team to bigger and better things.”