Brad Knighton served notice Saturday night that he is not willing to give up his starting goalkeeper job with the Vancouver Whitecaps just yet.
Knighton recorded his second shutout of the season and also earned an assist as the Whitecaps blanked the Seattle Sounders 2-0 in MLS action before a sellout crowd of 21,000 at B.C. Place Stadium.
“That’s the best I’ve ever played — by far, hands down,” said Knighton, who was credited with seven saves.
Knighton chalked up his elevated game to the recent arrival of Danish goalkeeper David Ousted, who becomes eligible to play Tuesday after an international transfer window opens.
“You don’t want to be chopped from a team,” said Knighton. “It’s my job to put in performances like that to make (management) think twice about taking me out of the lineup.
“Obviously, it’s been nice having him here, because it’s going to push me and make me better. ... What you’ve seen from the two weeks that he’s been here, it’s changed my mentality, and it’s probably the best I’ve ever played.”
Kenny Miller, in the fourth minute, and second-half substitute Darren Mattocks, in the 79th, scored as the Whitecaps (8-5-5), in their third season in MLS, beat Seattle for the first time in league play. Vancouver moved into fourth place in the Western Conference standings while extending its streak to five games.
The Whitecaps remained unbeaten in nine home games and have won six of their past nine overall. Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie said his players are starting to believe they are a good team.
“It’s just another step in the right direction for us,” said Knighton. “I don’t really care about the shutouts and winning games. That’s what I’m in there for — to make saves and get us points and move up the table.”
The Sounders (7-6-3) saw their unbeaten streak end at four games. The Whitecaps avenged a road loss to the Sounders in early June, when the Sounders overcame a second-half deficit.
“Credit to them for finishing that,” said Seattle coach Sigi Schmid. “We had opportunities, we should have finished some of those opportunities. Knighton came up with some big saves in goal to keep them in it, and then the last 10 minutes of the game we’re pushing forward trying to get it — and that’s probably when they got the majority of their shots.
“I’m not displeased with what we created or how we played.”
A large contingent of Sounders fans travelled north for the game, but they had little to cheer about early.
Miller capitalized on Vancouver’s first legitimate chance as he ran on to Corey Hertzog’s long, high ball from the midfield line, sidestepped defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and put a shot just inside the far post.
Hertzog’s helper was his first in 11 MLS career games played. He also has a goal to his credit. But Hertzog was forced to leave the game with an apparent leg injury in the second half after taking a high tackle from Lamar Neagle, who received a yellow card for the infraction.
After Miller’s early goal, the Whitecaps spent much of the night defending as the Sounders enjoyed numerous chances but could not beat Knighton.
Knighton preserved his club’s lead with three outstanding saves about a minute apart in the first half. He foiled Eddie Johnson from inside the Vancouver box on 22 minutes and then, from an ensuing Seattle corner kick, got his hand on a Zach Scott shot from close range and caught the ball while lying on his back.
In the 27th minute, Knighton robbed Johnson and Obafemi Martins’ on shot off the rebound.
Knighton was credited with five saves in the first half as Seattle recorded 10 shots. Three of them went wide and two were blocked. Vancouver recorded five shots in the first 45 minutes, but put only two on target, and finished with just four on net.
The Sounders almost drew even in the 57th minute as Neagle put a shot off Vancouver defender Brad Rusin and the goal post, and Seattle failed to generate a chance off the resulting corner kick.
Whitecaps coach Rennie tried to generate some offence in the 76th minute as he subbed in striker Mattocks for Camilo, who was held in check most of the night and saw his scoring streak end at five games.
The move worked as Mattocks ran on to midfielder Gershon Koffie’s long header off a Knighton goal kick and lifted the ball over Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.
“I haven’t had [an assist] since high school, so it was quite nice,” said Knighton. “It’s one I’ll live to tell my wife and kids about. Unfortunately, my wife and daughter are back in North Carolina right now, but I know they stayed up and saw the game.
“My friends have been blowing me away with text messages. ... This really means a lot to me.”
The goal was the first for Mattocks since May 11th. He has played sparingly since then while also spending time away with the Jamaican national team.
“It was good scoring a goal,” said Mattocks. “I think it helped the team. We were ahead 1-0, but getting that goal took the pressure off the team.”
But Knighton knows the pressure isn’t off him as Ousted waits in the wings.
“He’s got to come and take [the job] out of my hands,” said Knighton. “It’s going to make for a great battle.”
Notes: Knighton was the obvious choice as Vancouver’s man of the match. ... Whitecaps defender Andy O’Brien has recovered from a hamstring injury suffered the last time the teams met, in Seattle in early June, but remained out of the lineup as a precaution. ... Koffie returned to the starting lineup for the first time since May 1. He subbed into the last two games after missing four with a thigh injury. ... Seattle played without injured midfielders Osvaldo Alonso (quad) and Steve Zakuani (hernia). ... Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert and fourth goalkeeper Simon Thomas were away with the Canadian team at the CONCACAF Gold Cup while central defender Carlyle Mitchell was with Trinidad and Tobago at the same tournament.