"It's the best I've ever played"
That's how Brad Knighton described his performance against arch rival Seattle Sounders last Saturday night and it would be hard to argue with that statement. Prior to Saturday's game the club had still not won against a Cascadia rival since entering MLS in 2011, so it was going to take something special to find that elusive first win. Granted it was Scottish striker Kenny Miller, who opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a brilliantly placed ball that skipped past the outstretched hands of Seattle's keeper Michael Gspurning, but it was Knighton's dominance in goal that helped lift the Caps over the Sounders until Darren Mattocks sealed the deal in the seventy-ninth minute.
Knighton made a string of huge saves that started in the twenty-first minute when Knighton made a stop on Eddie Johnson, who had managed to get past fullback Jordan Harvey for an attempt on goal. Knighton stopped EJ's shot, which was then cleared away for a corner. Lamar Neagle floated in a corner kick and Knighton made a spectacular one-handed stop on Zach Scott from point-blank range. As Knighton laid on his back the ball hung tantalizingly in the air and the Seattle attackers pounced to try and even the score, but Knighton kept his cool and was able to collect the ball. Minutes later Knighton raced off his line to stop EJ once again and then made an equally impressive stop on Obafemi Martins' shot on the rebound. Those were just a couple of a career high seven saves that Knighton made on the night. Adding to his clean sheet he also assisted on Mattocks' goal (his first assist since high school) and was awarded Man of the Match. To round out a perfect night he was also awarded the MLS Player of the Week award, which coincidentally was the third time in four weeks a 'Cap was named Player of the Week.
"He's gotta come take it out of my hands"
Possibly the worst kept secret for the Whitecaps this season was the signing of Danish goalkeeper David Ousted. Prior to the official announcement by the club it was reported about a week earlier by the Danish website Bold. The signing was a bit of surprise because many thought that of all the positions that needed improvement goaltending was not one of them. Indeed, since the 'Caps also have veteran Joe Cannon and youngster Simon Thomas on the books it was not immediately apparent why they needed to sign another keeper. Manager Martin Rennie and the club have talked before that they want depth at all positions and certainly they have that now with their 'keepers. The question is who's going to be the Number 1? Clearly at this point in time the job is Knighton's to lose. He started the season on the bench second choice to the veteran Cannon, and much like the 2012 season, he waited for his opportunity to take the starting position away from him. Since Ousted joined the team Knighton has raised the bar allowing only one goal in three games. Not only that, but the manner in which he played against Seattle can only be described as inspired. Former Vancouver 86ers and Canadian goalkeeper Paul Dolan who, when speaking on a Vancouver radio program last week, basically said that while he thought that Knighton is a good goalkeeper he was unsure whether or not that Knighton had the ability to make those spectacular game-changing saves. Days after Dolan's comments Knighton stepped up and had a career night versus Seattle. When speaking to the media about the arrival of Ousted (who is known to be able to make those game-changing saves) he welcomed his new teammate and said that he expects a battle between the two of them and that "he's [Ousted] gotta come take it out of my hands." It certainly looks as though the arrival of the big Danish goalkeeper has motivated Knighton to step his game up to the next level.
Three's a Crowd
With the signing of Ousted that means that the Caps have 4 keepers on their roster. If we leave Simon Thomas (who has mostly played for the Reserve and PDL sides this season) out of the conversation we are still left with Knighton, Cannon and Ousted. Cannon, who at 38, is oldest of the three and his current contract (which has a base salary of $190,000) is set to expire at the end of the 2013 season. Cannon made some interesting, but somewhat cryptic comments after the Seattle match about how he has some "options" leading many to conclude that the MLS legend is the odd man out and may soon be leaving. It does rather make sense to let the younger players (Knighton and Ousted are both 28) to fight it out for the top spot. Also, his sizeable contract makes him an expensive luxury to have sitting on the bench and as we have seen in the past the 'Caps can be pretty ruthless when it comes to moving players to free up money in the MLS salary cap system. The job is Knighton's to lose and if he can deliver performances like he did this past Saturday night Ousted will have his work cut out for him to take the starting job for himself. Somehow I have an uneasy feeling that Knighton doesn't have a very long leash and if he has a few poor performances I think that the job could be given over to Ousted fairly quickly. Of course only time will tell, but speaking now from purely a fan's perspective it was exciting and enjoyable to watch Brad have the game he did and I hope it's just the first of many. The flipside is that Ousted sounds like he could be a serious upgrade, so whatever happens it should be an interesting position to watch.
Mark is a big soccer fan and if you like to talk about soccer & the Whitecaps in particular then please follow or tweet me @markjrdailey