If you’re looking for a Cinderella story among the rookies during the course of Revolution preseason training, than look no further than the plight of goalkeeper Brad Knighton. The 6-2, 185lbs., UNC-Wilmington standout shined in goal during the club’s February 2 tryouts, and was subsequently invited back on a trial less than a week later. With Matt Reis a lock as the team’s primary keeper, Knighton faces an uphill battle of making the squad this Spring, with veteran Doug Warren and fellow rookie Phil Marfuggi presently in camp as well. A forgone conclusion that the club will not be retaining four keepers during the regular season, the stakes are unmercifully high for the former Seahawk, as he hopes to have an impressive showing during the club’s preseason Bermuda excursion. After Thursday’s afternoon training session, I caught up with the former Seahawk as the team prepared for Bermuda.
BRIAN: As far as actually getting invited the tryouts, was it something you did on your own initiative? Or did someone recommend you to the coaching staff?
BRAD: Actually, my coach had played here in 1996, he was the goalkeeper here, his name is Aidan Heaney (Heaney is currently the head coach of the UNC-Wilmington men’s soccer team). He actually knew the coaching staff, so he contacted them after our season was over. They told me to get a tape together of my highlights from this past season, and I sent it up here, and they invited me to come up here.
BRIAN: Obviously, everyone who comes to the tryouts tries to do their best. Did you have any idea that you’d be getting a call back from the coaching staff?
BRAD: I was pretty confident going in, especially since Aidan knew the people up here. I’ve been training since the end of last season, and I went to the combine before I came up here. Then I went to the DC (United) tryouts, and then ended up here last week, so I felt pretty confident coming in.
BRIAN: How did you first hear about being invited back for the trial?
BRAD: They actually contacted Aidan, and then Aidan contacted me saying that I got invited to come up here.
TONY: Did you feel like your performance was strong enough to earn a call back?
BRAD: I felt very confident after the tryout that I was going to get a call back, and I talked to my coach right after, and he said just wait for a call, and they ended up calling me Monday morning. Hopefully I can keep it going here, and hopefully get a contract.
TONY: How’s training been going for you this week?
BRAD: It’s going well. I played better Tuesday than I did today. It’s definitely a different level up here than coming from the college level, but it’s good to get accustomed to it. I’m glad I got the opportunity to go to Bermuda. I got another week to impress in front of Stevie (Nicol) and Paul (Mariner) and Gwyn (Williams), and we’ll see what happens after we get back. They said we’d talk about it after we got back from Bermuda. We’ll see what happens.
BRIAN: With three other goalkeepers in camp, is the competition fierce? Or are the others helping you out?
BRAD: No, it’s not a fierce rivalry. Phil actually lives downstairs from me at the hotel we’re at, and we go out to meals together. We’re good buddies. Matt Reis and Doug (Warren) are just great; they’re helping us out everywhere. They give us a few pointers and whatnot. It’s a good group to be around. I’m actually very proud that I got the opportunity to come up here.
BRIAN: How does the training here in the pros compare to the training in college?
BRAD: It’s a lot faster. You’ve got to be thinking two or three seconds ahead of what’s actually going to happen. I was talking to Gwyn when we were playing this afternoon, and he’s like “Yeah, expect them to hit that one-time shot”, whereas in college, you won’t see kids taking that one-time shot. So it’s a matter of being there and getting set rather than being late. In the college game, where you can get by with it, rather than here, you get punished for not being a split-second there.
TONY: What do you feel the strengths of your game are?
BRAD: I feel like I’m pretty good in the air and pretty good shot-stopper. But everyone’s a good shot-stopper at this level. I’m really good with my feet; I really work a lot at playing on my feet. I actually grew up playing forward. I started playing goalie when I was 12, so the footwork kind of came along with that. My distribution and taking crosses are also strengths as well.
BRIAN: Is there a goalie that you model your game after, or do you just go out there on your own instinct?
BRAD: I kind of go out there on my own. I’ve actually been following Matt for the past year, and actually thought, “Man, it would be great to come up here and play with him.” It’s definitely been an opportunity. My freshman year, I happened to go over to Middleborough (EPL) and train with the keepers there, and during my junior year, I went over to Valencia (La Liga) and trained with them. I’ve been up there at the top level, and it’s definitely great to play with the best players in this country. It’s definitely an honor.
*For those of you who care about inane details (like myself), Knighton is currently sporting the number 24 in training.