FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – One minute Brad Knighton was watching the action unfold from the sidelines. The next he was sprawling to his left to save a free kick from Wayne Rooney.
Such was the job required of Knighton on Saturday night – coincidentally enough, “Star Wars Night” at Gillette Stadium, featuring a Brad “Jedi” Knighton bobblehead giveaway – called upon to replace Matt Turner in the 58th minute after the New England Revolution’s starter was sent off for clattering into Rooney.
“That’s the nature of our position – you’ve got to be ready at a moment’s notice,” said Knighton. “It’s unfortunate what’s happened with Matt. It’s happened to me before, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time that it happens for either one of us.
“That’s not something you wish upon (anyone) or expect to happen, but you train every week, you train every day and you (anticipate) a moment like that to happen, and when you do, you’ve got to take it and run with it.”
Knighton didn’t just run with it, he leapt with it – literally – as his first task was to set up a wall and repel a Rooney free kick, which he parried away with two strong hands, keeping the score 0-0 at the time.
Just minutes later, Juan Agudelo scored at the other end of the field to put the Revolution in front.
“I was just hoping he wasn’t going to go over the wall,” Knighton said of Rooney’s free kick. “For me it was just kind of stay in your spot, trust in what you’re going to do, and just try and be there to block it. He hit it right at me, thank goodness.”
That save – and Agudelo’s subsequent goal – highlighted a resolute performance from the shorthanded Revs, who were good value for the lead they carried into the 90th minute. They were disciplined defensively, solid in their blocks, and they offered the visitors limited looks at goal.
There was an element of misfortune, then, when Video Review determined – harshly, the Revs would argue – that Brandon Bye had handled Steve Birnbaum’s shot inside the penalty area.
Rooney dispatched the ensuing penalty – although Knighton did get a hand on the effort – to leave the Revolution to rue their luck in a frustrating 1-1 draw with D.C. United, but it didn’t negate the pride New England took in their performance as they stayed unbeaten (1-0-2) under interim head coach Mike Lapper.
“It was just buckle down and defend like crazy,” Lapper said of the final 10 minutes on Saturday night. “The guys in the locker room are obviously disappointed – they thought they should’ve gotten the three points – but I tell you, I’m so proud of them. They just worked so, so hard.”
With Turner suspended, Knighton may well be in line for a start next weekend when the Revs visit the LA Galaxy in their final league match before breaking for three-and-a-half weeks during the Concacaf Gold Cup.
Should Knighton get the nod – in what will likely be Bruce Arena’s first game as head coach – he’ll have the full confidence of his teammates, who praised his performance up and down on Saturday night.
“A big professional, Brad is,” said Agudelo. “That (save on Rooney’s free kick) encouraged us. That made us believe, ‘Okay, the next ‘keeper that came in, he’s up for it.’”