For Brad Knighton, next season is going to be different. After all, this season, Knighton was an unheralded backup to the veteran Joe Cannon, rescued from the NASL by head coach Martin Rennie. You would think that Knighton was just happy to get another crack at an MLS roster. However, when the 'Caps took the pitch for the first post season match in franchise history, it was the Hickory, North Carolina native manning the pipes, while Cannon watched from the bench.
While Cannon had played well early in the season, Knighton had arguably played better at the end, and the position was now his. Knighton continued his solid play in that match, and although his squad lost 2-1 to the LA Galaxy, none of the goals could be blamed on him.
So, naturally, when Knighton comes to training camp next season, he believes the number one job is his.
"Yeah, I would feel that way", Knighton says. "As long as my preparation and the things I do well, if those things stay the same, I don't see anything changing and they'll have to tear the shirt away from me."
However, for head coach Martin Rennie, things aren't that simple.
"Everybody is competing for a place, no one is coming in here as the starter in any position," says Rennie. "He had a good end to the season and he put himself in a good position, but no one is in the position where they are the starting guy. He's in the same boat as everybody else."
Comments like that don't faze Knighton too much. He knows that the keys aren't just going to be handed over to him, and he's prepared to work hard to obtain the position that has eluded him ever since he first stepped foot onto an MLS pitch in 2007. Knighton says the competitive environment is good for the entire team.
"It' s a competitive environment, and he [Rennie] wants competition at every position.I don't think any position in our locker room is guaranteed, as you saw that from the roster changes and the lineup changes from game to game. He wants people to push each other, and that's only going to make the team better. I'm just focused on myself and what I need to do,and if I do the small things well I'll be just fine, and it doesn't really matter what anybody else does."
So who will be pushing Knighton? While Rennie kept mum on whether or not the Whitecaps were actively seeking a starting goalkeeper, he did say that Joe Cannon was going to be given a fair shot at winning back his position.
"We need competition at every position, and goalkeeper is no different", said Rennie.
Before Knighton came to Vancouver, he had been a third string depth guy on a couple of MLS teams. Now that he's finally had the taste of the number one job, now that he's experienced the post-season, and now that he knows what it's like to be 'the guy' at a high level, he can't imagine going back to number two.
"It would be incredibly frustrating", said Knighton on his feelings towards playing backup again. "I feel like I've proved my self and shown that I can be a player in this league, and whether it be with this team or any other team, I'm excited for the opportunity, and I think I've set myself up well if another opportunity arises elsewhere.
That quote struck me as a bit odd, but Knighton recovered.
"So, obviously I'd be very frustrated because I felt like I've done everything I possibly could, but the coaching staff has stuck behind me, and this is the second team he [Rennie] has brought me to, so we have a good relationship, and he wanted me to be his keeper in Carolina, and the latter part of this season, I was the keeper. So obviously, he believes in me or else he wouldn't have brought me to two different leagues."
Still, since he brought it up, I had to ask Knighton the question; If he did get pushed back to the number two role, would he want out of Vancouver?
"I mean if we have to, we'll cross that bridge when we need to", says Knighton. "I feel like I've established myself to be the number one, but I'm just going to focus on coming in and competing for pre-season and telling myself it's my job to lose. If it comes across at the beginning of the season where I'm not playing, who knows what could happen, and what happens with this league with turnover. You know, with my competitive nature, he says the spot is up for grabs, but I don't really see it that way."
While Knighton didn't completely reveal his hand, he made it pretty clear what his expectations are heading into next season. He's going to work hard and he's going to compete for his right to play. However, if he's not the guy between the pipes for the Whitecaps next season, it sounds like the 'Caps will have to go shopping for a different backup.