PORTLAND, Ore. - Before last weekend's Union-Whitecaps game, I wrote about the goalkeeping situation in Vancouver and Brad Knighton's role in it.
Despite a pretty strong performance against the Union, Knighton was finally benched Saturday night by Vancouver manager Martin Rennie. It was going to happen sooner or later. You don't bring in a foreign goalkeeper, much less one of David Ousted's caliber, and not play him.
The impact of Rennie's decision was even more profound because of the circumstances in which Ousted made his Whitecaps debut: a road game against a huge rival, with some of the most passionate fans in Major League Soccer just a few feet away.
In his postgame press conference, Rennie said he wanted to throw Ousted right into the deep end. It's a fair coaching philosophy. Still, there was a case to be made that in a jam-packed Western Conference playoff race, it might have been a bit better to let Ousted play his first MLS game on home turf.
Instead of playing Saturday night, Knighton played Sunday afternoon in the Timbers-Whitecaps reserves game. He made quite a few strong saves in a 3-2 Vancouver win.
After the game, I talked with Knighton at length about his circumstances. As ever, he was honest, forthright and consummately professional. I'm sure that doesn't surprise his many fans, but it would be easy for a player in his situation to just keep quiet.
Whether in soccer or hockey, Vancouver and Philadelphia fans know how to stir up controversy about netminding. The Canucks went through one last season, and the Flyers seem to go through one every season.
Indeed, Knighton went through it personally before he left PPL Park. When the Union signed Faryd Mondragón and drafted Zac MacMath, Knighton was the odd man out.
Eventually, Rennie will make his decision, and Knighton and Ousted will live with it. That final verdict is yet to come. For now, here are Knighton's thoughts on the present.
I saw that after you finished the reserve game, you went into the stands to say hello to your wife and daughter. It must have felt great to do that, and to know they were watching you play on the road.
Yeah, they drove down this weekend. They hadn't been to Portland and they thought it would be a good experience. It was something that they were looking forward to. They made the trip down on Friday.
You've been on a great run of form lately, and then last night comes along and you were benched. You've been down this road before. How are you feeling at this point?
It's difficult. You feel like what you've done is good in the time you've gotten in there. I'm super-confident with my ability and what I've shown, and I'm sure people have taken notice. Whatever happens from here on out is going to be that. I've made a name for myself, I feel, over these last several weeks, and whatever is going to play out, that's the way it is.
Right now, my job was to win a game today, and to get this team ready to win a game. We were able to go out there and get a victory.
From an outsider's perspective, Martin Rennie seems like a guy who's pretty open and forward about things. Is he that with you and the rest of the players?
Yeah. Martin has his decisions that he needs to make, and he feels this is the best decision to go with as of right now. For my sake, it's for me to accept and to take on my shoulder and continue to get better, push this team and help this team be successful. But when I get my chance in there, it's about taking it. Martin and I had a nice, long conversation on Friday, and that's that.
Is there anything from the conversation that you can share?
No, I'm going to keep that to my chest. Martin and I had a very good conversation. Obviously it's about the team, but for me personally, I've done everything I possibly could to show that I'm capable of being a No. 1 in this league, whether it's here or some place else.
I'm very confident in my abilities. I've been able to make saves and keep our team in games over these last several weeks, and that's what I intend to do going forward - like I said, whether it's here or some place else. But for right now, I'm here, and my job is to help this team be successful and move up the table.
I talked to Jordan Harvey on Saturday, and one of the things we discussed was the strong relationship between the two of you. How much does that help you and him?
Jordan and I live two blocks from each other. He and Kim [Caldwell, Harvey's girlfriend] - they met in Philadelphia and she's with him now in Vancouver – and our family spend a lot of time together. The relationship we have, it's second to none.
For him to get the goal last night, I was super excited for him. He's loving every minute of it. I keep joking with him that he's going to start pushing Jack [McInerney] for the Golden Boot. I told Jack when he was in Vancouver last week that he's going to have to look over his shoulder, as Jordan is coming fast.
He's been doing fantastic this year. The credit goes to him, because he works his tail off, on and off the pitch. In the off-season he was super-excited for this season to start, and he is making the most of his opportunity this year.
Even though you didn't get to play in the game, that point earned against the Timbers was a huge one for the Whitecaps. The Western Conference playoff race is incredibly tight, and now Seattle - the seventh-place team - has just signed Clint Dempsey. How crazy is that?
It's wild. It shows how much this league has changed and grown over the last three or four years. The conference battle here in the West is as tight as ever. Two points earned can get you into second place, and two points lost can get you out of the playoffs. Every game is crucial and going into this stretch, with pretty much every game being a conference game, it comes down to six-point games.
How important is it psychologically for your team that you made the playoffs last year, so you guys know how to get over that line this year?
Exactly. A lot of people said we faltered at the end of last season, but at the beginning of the year we put ourselves in a position to be able to have some ups and downs, and still get in the playoffs. And that's what it's all about.
It doesn't matter whether you're the first team in or the last team in, anything can happen in the playoffs. And it's normally the team that's hot at the end of the year that makes the run - not only in soccer but any other major sport.
Last night was a step in the right direction. We felt hard done by in the game against Philadelphia, going down a man, but we responded well as a team, with heart and determination. I think that was evident in last night's game: we went down a goal and responded. We stayed in the game and managed to frustrate them, and get them out of their rhythm. It's something that we were looking to do.
Everyone in the country watches these Cascadia Cup games when they are on national television, but a lot of people don't get to experience them in person. What's it like to be living it as a player, and to know that there's a very real chance of all three teams making the playoffs this year?
It's huge. Not only for the region, but for MLS in general. These rivalry games between us and Portland and Seattle rival anything in Europe. You could put it up there with the likes of Manchester United vs. Manchester City, I think.
The fans' appreciation of this rivalry is pure class. The atmosphere Saturday night and the games we play in at B.C. Place are just second to none. You can't ask for a better atmosphere being in MLS, and being fortunate enough to be able to play for one of these three teams.