There's no better teacher than experience and we were lucky enough to speak with one of Major League Soccer's most experienced goalkeepers! Brad Knighton has enjoyed a 10+ year professional career playing with various teams throughout MLS and he has plenty of wisdom to share. Take some time out of your day to learn a bit from someone who has been through it all!
You're a fellow UNC Wilmington Seahawk alum. What was the driving force behind your decision to attend UNCW? Was your eye towards playing professionally after college?
For me personally, when I looked at everything that the university had to offer, it was a no brainer. It checked every box I wanted. It had an up and coming soccer program. It had a coach who had played professionally as a goalkeeper. I had the possibility of starting as a freshman and it was close to the beach. What else could you want from a university? I had aspirations of playing professionally, but I wanted to be able to continue to learn and grow as a goalkeeper and if playing professionally after that was an option then I knew I would set myself up for whatever may happen after college.
You spent a portion of your college career playing in the PDL with the Indiana Invaders. How did that experience help your development as a goalkeeper?
The college season is so short that you have to be able to start the season kind of in mid-season form. My first two seasons in college I had just done some training on my own during the summer and before my senior year I thought it would be good for me to get into a routine with training and playing games regularly and come into my final college season with the best opportunity to be successful. I was able to have training everyday and play meaningful games during the summer PDL season. Once preseason started in August I had already played 10-12 games to get me ready for the upcoming fall season.
Immediately after college, you went un-drafted in the MLS draft. Was that a surprise to you after a successful college career? Did you ever question whether professional soccer was the path for you?
I knew it would be difficult to get drafted right out of college. I tried to do everything I could with putting together highlight videos from my college career, attending a Pro Combine in which USL and MLS coaches attended, and organizing tryouts with a couple MLS teams. There was definitely a point in which I thought maybe I should finish college and pursue something other than soccer but I'm thankful I stuck with it!
Talk about that first professional preseason. How did you get there? What was the level like? What was your mentality like knowing you're competing to prove yourself and earn a contract?
I was invited to an invite only tryout with the New England Revolution in 2007. They had selected about 20 players to come in and train at their practice facility a week before they opened preseason. I impressed in that tryout and they invited me into their first team preseason camp a week later. The first few days were in Foxboro, and then they set out on their first trip to Bermuda. We were in Bermuda for about a week and half. The experience was incredible. They had just lost in the final the season before and returned a lot of key players such as Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston, Jay Heaps, Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis to name a few. I took everyday as its each individual day. I tried to maximize the time that I had there and stay positive in everything I did. I tried not to over complicate things in training and do the small things well. As the camp ended, I was approached by the GM in the airport and he said that they wanted to offer me a contract to join the team on a permeant basis. I was beyond excited! Very thankful that all the work I had put in finally paid off.
Being a 10+ year veteran in MLS, how do you prepare differently now for preseason than you did your first few years? How do you deal with the long season differently?
Each season is different. Some seasons are longer than others with regards to making the post season and how far of a run you go in the playoffs. I have a routine that I like to stick by and workouts that I like to do to stay in shape during that time off. Obviously as the years go by my trainings tend to focus on different aspects of my game. Some off-seasons I may want to work on something I felt I didn’t do as well with that season.
Throughout your professional career, you've played every role possible as a goalkeeper (Starter, back-up, third-string). Describe the mental adjustment it takes to play each role and how you adapted to each in various environments.
Like I had said in the previous question, every season is different. I have been the 3rd string, 2nd string, and starter throughout my career at one point or another. Yes, playing in games is different than training everyday but I've tried to bring the same mentality each day that I've been a pro. Train as if everyday is your last, practice the way you play in games, listen to advice when it is given and look to apply that in the next thing you do, and lastly, love what you do!
How has MLS grown throughout your time as a professional? More specifically, how has goalkeeper development improved both training and philosophy wise?
MLS has grown tremendously since I came into the league back in 2007. They introduced the Designated Player rule in my early years in the league with David Beckham coming over. They are now at 3 Designated Player’s per team. The number of teams in MLS has grown exponentially. There are more soccer specific stadiums than ever before, attendance has increased, and the quality of the product on the field is better than ever before! The goalkeeping aspect has changed also. This goes hand in hand with the quality of players the league is brining in also. We have to be able to adapt as goalkeepers and learn to play a bit more proactive and aggressive nowadays. Our shot stopping, our distribution, our taking of crosses, and playing with our feet has to be better. Every phase of goalkeeping is tested each week and we have to be up for the challenge.
What do you attribute your longevity in Major League Soccer to? How have you managed to balance your life on and off the field in order to perform at such a high level for so long?
Being a good professional not only on the field but off it as well. When you are in the business, it's about building relationships and enjoying what you do. We are a very fortunate few to be able to get paid to play a sport that we love. Over the years, I think taking care of my body more and being mindful of how I sleep, how I eat, how I conduct myself on a daily basis to better my career has helped me tremendously.
The MLS draft is coming up in a few months; what advice do you have for goalkeeping hopefuls?
Embrace the moment and enjoy the process. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Take time to live in the moment. Do the things that you have done for years getting you to this point and let the chips fall where they may.
What's your favorite goalkeeping memory as a professional?
Getting my first start of my career at the old Giants Stadium against the NY RedBulls in 2009. We tied the game 1-1 but it is a memory I will never forget.