New England Revolutions fans were greeted by an unfamiliar sight on Saturday when Brad Knighton started in net against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Usual starting goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth featured in the previous 25 league matches but was on the bench as the Revs returned from the Copa America break. According to head coach Jay Heaps, the move was done to promote competition.
"We wanted to use the break to kind of assess that position and really look for one to push the other," Heaps explained. "I thought that in terms of that, Brad was training really well and pushing Bobby."
Competition between Knighton and Shuttleworth has long been a storyline for the Revolution. When league legend Matt Reis retired at the end of the 2013 season, Knighton was brought in to challenge Shuttleworth for the number one spot. Shuttleworth ultimately won the job, making Knighton the backup.
Over the last three seasons, Shuttleworth has made 77 starts while Knighton has only made six. Knighton has, however, regularly appeared in US Open Cup games, giving the 31-year-old a chance to make his claim for more minutes.
Such was the case on Wednesday when Knighton was given the starting nod against the Carolina RailHawks in the fourth round of the US Open Cup. Playing against his former team, Knighton made five saves to preserve a 1-0 victory. Knighton's performance earned him a league start that weekend.
"Brad got his chance in the Open Cup and really took it," Heaps praised. "I thought he did a great job in that game, saved us on two occasions, where he pulled one back, really. That’s what we’re looking for from a goalkeeper when they get their chance."
Although he didn't record a shutout against the Whitecaps, who Knighton played for from 2012 to 2013, he did make three saves to help the Revs collect their first road win of the season. With positive play in two consecutive matches, Heaps will have plenty to think about ahead of this weekend's game against D.C. United.
"Now, we’ve got a good game on Saturday as well and we’ll reassess it, but we like that competition because we want to get more out of each guy," Heaps said. "I think that when Brad is pushing Bobby and Bobby is pushing Brad, we get a little bit better there."