ATLANTA – Saturday night’s 1-0 victory over Atlanta United FC meant so much more than three points and a clean sheet to New England Revolution goalkeeper Brad Knighton.
Knighton, who spent the first three years of his professional career in New England from 2007-09 before returning ahead of the 2014 season, is the only player on the current Revolution roster to have played under Paul Mariner, an assistant with the Revs from 2004-09. Mariner, who also served as the color commentator on Revolution broadcasts from 2014-19, passed away late last week after a brief battle with brain cancer.
Wearing black armbands to honor Mariner during Saturday’s game the Revs extended their lead atop the Eastern Conference with a vital victory, but more importantly, they honored a legend of the game and the club, and a man who left an impression on anyone and everyone who had the pleasure of his company.
“I’m going to get choked up just talking about it,” said a visibly emotional Knighton. “Paul was the first coach that brought me into the Revolution back in 2007, and he really taught me kind of how to be a professional day in and day out. He brought me on under his shoulder and just showed me the life of a pro, how to come about it every single day, to train hard and work hard.
“We became really close friends after he was my coach and we stayed in close contact. I spoke to him probably two or three months ago – it was the last time I spoke to him – and he just said, ‘I love you and keep praying for me, and I’m going to stay strong.’ Wearing the armband for him tonight was just something special, and hopefully I can wear it again the next time I play and honor him, because he meant so much to me.”
Mariner meant so much to so many, particularly in the Revolution organization where he spent more than a decade as an assistant coach and broadcaster. But even his adversaries couldn’t help but hold Mariner in high regard, including Bruce Arena, who first met Mariner in the late 1980s when he was playing for the Albany Capitals in the American Soccer League, and who coached against him in MLS.
“I watched him play and I was amazed at a person with his pedigree who came to the United States, still had an unbelievable passion for the game, and still wanted to play. I enjoyed watching Paul play in his last years of his playing career.
“Getting to know Paul over the years, I can’t think of a more wonderful person. So enjoyable, a great sense of humor, obviously a brilliant person in terms of the game. I thought for the games – I don’t recall exactly the games he broadcast for the Revolution – but I remember watching them, the games that I coached. I thought his insight was simply outstanding. He was a great football person.
“I know everyone around the Revolution will miss him greatly, and he did a lot, not only for this team, but in this sport in the country to have people of his background come in and support the sport and help the sport grow. I think it was wonderful that we could at least recognize Paul tonight, because he was a special person.”
More tributes to Mariner are planned for next Sunday when the Revs return to Gillette Stadium to host CF Montréal, and while Mariner’s presence around the venue will be sorely missed, Knighton is confident his friend and former coach will be watching his beloved club.
“He’s just such a good person,” Knighton said. “His family’s great, his kids are great, and I just feel so bad for their family right now. But I know he’s up watching us right now, praying for us, and he’s with us in spirit.”