When the Major League Soccer season began, Brad Knighton was glued to the Vancouver Whitecaps bench.
Now, as the Whitecaps struggle down the homestretch, Vancouver's backup goalkeeper is being asked to save their playoff hopes.
Knighton will make his third straight start today as Vancouver hosts the Colorado Rapids in a bid to end a five-game losing streak.
"It's nice to be able to get a run of games," said Knighton after practice Saturday. "I was coming off the bench a couple times this season."
The Whitecaps (10-12-7) are clinging to the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference as they take on an injury-riddled Colorado side that sits with a 9-18-2 mark.
Vancouver holds a onepoint lead over FC Dallas in what is essentially a twoteam race for the final playoff spot.
"Obviously, three points is a must for us," said Knighton. "We need to come in here and dictate the tempo and take the game to them. We're at home and we've done very well at home [7-2-4]."
Knighton, a former University of North CarolinaWilmington standout, was never drafted by an MLS club. He spent last season with the second-tier Carolina RailHawks.
The 27-year-old Hickory, North Carolina, native has displaced Joe Cannon as Vancouver's starting goalkeeper during the most critical part of the season. The Whitecaps started the season with four straight shutouts.
But Cannon has not seen the field since allowing a free kick to go through his hands in a 2-1 road loss to the lowly Portland Timbers on Aug. 25.
The Whitecaps are coming off a disappointing 1-0 loss last weekend in Dallas, where Knighton stopped a penalty kick but allowed a goal in second-half stoppage time to Canadian international Julian de Guzman.
"It was heartbreaking," said Knighton. "Overall, the team put in a really good shift."
The decision to go with Knighton appears to represent a gamble on youth over experience. Knighton has 19 career MLS games under his belt while the 37-year-old Cannon is a former league goalkeeper of the year (2002).
This season, Knighton has appeared in just five league games, starting three of them, while posting a 2-2-0 record. Cannon, by contrast, has started 26, going 8-10-7.
But coach Martin Rennie said there was no gambling involved in his move.
"I feel good with both of our goalkeepers," he said. "Any time [Knighton] has played, he's done well, so he's been given a chance."
Vancouver has scored only once during its losing skid. Rookie striker Darren Mattocks, who came in off the bench in Dallas, will start against the Rapids.
Rennie needed only one word to say what he wanted from the 22-year-old Jamaican: "Goals."