BOSTON- With only losses and no goals in their first two games of the season, the New England Revolution are understandably looking forward to the comforts of Gillette Stadium for Saturday afternoon's home opener against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
"It's nice to be home, to play and practice on your own fields," said Revolution goalkeeper Brad Knighton in a phone interview on Thursday after training. "We've been traveling quite a lot through preseason and then being on the road for the first two games. There's a comfort level, training on our own field."
Knighton, 29, spent the last two seasons in Vancouver. He re-joined New England, where he started his professional career as a third-string goalkeeper in 2007, in December when the Whitecaps agreed to trade him for a conditional pick in next year's draft.
A now-seasoned, eight-year professional, Knighton is no longer a third-string goalkeeper. But he's yet to make an appearance in his second tour of duty with the Revolution even though he's on equal footing with Bobby Shuttleworth, who started the first two games.
"We're both very good shot stoppers, both good with our feet, both young and hungry. We're fighting for spots," Knighton said of the competition with Shuttleworth for the starting job.
Given that he was a recent starter with the Whitecaps, Knighton may know the habits of his former teammates better than Shuttleworth. But Shuttleworth has been in good form despite allowing five goals in two games. In both Houston and Philadelphia, the defense left Shuttleworth out to dry, either stepping too early to play the ball or getting caught out of position. The result was either Shuttleworth picking up the broken pieces and making a big save, or picking the ball out of the net because there was nothing he could do when a scorer was given so much time and space in the box.
In spite of the rocky start the defense has had, Shuttleworth has registered seven saves, including stopping three breakaways.
"It comes down to us training hard and pushing hard, whether it's me or him," added Knighton. "We have to get the best out of each other so we can perform no matter who is in the eleven on game days."
The Revolution will prepare for the relentless Whitecaps, who started the season off with a 4-1 victory against New York and then a 1-1 tie at Chivas USA. They'll be keen to not only stay unbeaten on the road against a Revolution team that's gotten off to a sputtering start, but also avenge the 4-1 loss they sustained when they last visited Foxboro on May 12, 2012.
Away points are hard to accrue in MLS and the Whitecaps may have Gillette Stadium circled as an easy place to win after the Revolution started the season with back-to-back losses and no goals scored. Vancouver, meanwhile, will be riding high after jump-starting their season with two performances that have them labeled early as a playoff-caliber team in the Western Conference.
Mid-winter, few knew how good the Whitecaps could be. The soap opera of reigning league scoring champion Camilo Sanvezzo turning his back on Vancouver and MLS for Queretaro of the Mexican league seemingly depleted the Whitecaps' goal-scoring core. But the advent of Chilean playmaker Pedro Morales, plus Kenny Miller, who scored twice against the Revolution last year, have the Whitecaps offense off to a prolific start.
Meanwhile, veteran leadership through the likes of US national team and World Cup central defender Jay DeMerit, who is expected to start on Saturday, is keeping the club balanced and focused. Head Coach Carl Robinson, a former midfielder for Toronto and New York, understands MLS and has moved the club past the Camilo fiasco in his first few months at the helm.
ďEven when I left, they had a good core of players, experienced players," said Knighton. "They were going to find their groove eventually. And having Carl [Robinson] as their coach has helped them because he knows the league and the club's systemÖitís a matter of putting that together, and they have."
Knighton is obviously hoping for the start on Saturday, though it wouldn't be a surprise to see Shuttleworth earn a third straight start. Nevertheless, Knighton will be ready to lead the Revolution from the pipes once he earns his call.
"We're fine and donít need to hit the panic button," said Knighton of the importance of this weekend's game after opening with consecutive losses. "You know the statistics, itís hard to win on the road in MLS. Houston and Philadelphia are two big clubs and two places that pick up points at home.
"We need to pick up points here on Saturday. There are 32 games left, a lot still to play for. We can't sit there and say 'what if this' and 'what if that' this early in the season."
Email Julian at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him @juliancardillo
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