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Brad Knighton has seen MLS grow immensely during his 16-year career

Knighton: “MLS now is a whole different animal.”

SOCCER: APR 16 MLS - Charlotte FC at New England Revolution Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Major League Soccer looks a lot different from when Brad Knighton entered the league in 2007.

The way the netminder earned his first contract is a sign of how long he’s been around. His coach at the University of North Carolina Wilmington was Aiden Heaney, who played for the New England Revolution in 1996. With that connection in place, Knighton sent a VHS tape to coaches Stevie Nicol and Paul Mariner.

After mentioning a VHS, Knighton joked, “You know, they don’t have those anymore.”

The tape led to an invite to the club’s combine, which led to a preseason trip to the Bahamas. Knighton was eventually told, “We’d like you to be part of our family.”

Knighton spent 12 years with the Revolution over the course of a 16-year playing career. He also logged appearances with the Philadelphia Union and Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS, Carolina RailHawks of the NASL, Portland Timbers of USL-1, Richmond Kickers of the USL, and Revolution II of USL League One.

Knighton alternated between a starter and backup during the course of his career. Regardless of his role, he was always a team player.

On two occasions, Knighton was asked to take the field in an MLS reserve league game, playing against the Chicago Fire and DC United in 2009. The game against DC was particularly memorable as he donned a Rob Valentino jersey on the field.

“They needed a field player and so I stepped in for Stevie and Paul,” Knighton recalls. “We were playing DC United and so I was playing out wide on the wing and I actually hit the crossbar in that game.”

Knighton noted that “it’s a cool memory” while also saying, “Never in a million years would I be able to walk on a field now and play in a game like I did back when I first started but that was that was MLS then, and MLS now is a whole different animal.”

The league has grown immensely since Knighton first joined in terms of the quality of players, facilities, tactics, and more. With the World Cup coming to the United States in 2026, Knighton believes MLS is only going to get “bigger and better.”

Although Knighton has played his last game for the Revolution, he will continue to shape the organization as an Academy coach. In the Spring, he will lead the U-17 team.

When the goalkeeper’s contract with the Revs expired at the end of 2022, he explored several options, including the opportunity to be a player-coach at a different team. Knighton ultimately decided to accept a coaching gig within the organization he’s called home for 12 years.

This is just another way that MLS has grown since Knighton entered the league. Academies are now crucial to how teams build their rosters. While Diego Fagundez and Scott Caldwell remain the most notable Homegrowns in Revs history, Noel Buck, Esmir Bajraktarevic, Justin Rennicks, and Damien Rivera have had moments where they’ve shined.

The hope is that more players are on the way, and Knighton can play an important role in that process. These players will have the opportunity to train in a world-class facility under coaches that once played for the first team.

It’s far cry from where the league was in 2007.

“The pathway is bright,” Knighton remarked. “Since Rob [Becerra], Curt [Onalfo] and Bruce [Arena] and everyone’s come in, they’ve changed the culture in the Academy, they’ve changed the way it’s operated, they’ve changed the players, they’ve changed the system, and everything about it...”

“...Our goal now is to get as many Academy kids through the pathway as possible, through the second team and into the first team, and getting them first team minutes. Once we start doing that, I think the club will be unstoppable.”