Revolution offseason tryouts in the Gillette Stadium “bubble” are often recalled as exercises in trying to avoid frostbite on an unforgiving playing surface.
The workouts have been productive, though. Goalkeeper Matt Turner emerged in 2016 and went on to earn a $7 million transfer to Arsenal last year. And before Turner, there was Brad Knighton, who turned a “bubble” opportunity as a free agent goalkeeper in 2007 into a 15-year professional career.
“I guess I impressed during the open tryout,” said Knighton, who Wednesday announced his retirement to become the Revolution’s U-17 academy coach. “They invited me to Bermuda with the team to try and walk on. [Then] they pulled me aside and offered me a contract and said, ‘We’d like you to be part of our family,’ and it was up to me if I wanted to accept that or kind of go back and finish my college degree and kind of move forward in a different direction. The opportunity presented itself and, you know, the rest is kind of history.”
But Knighton might not have found his way to the Revolution if not for Aidan Heaney, also a free agent goalkeeper, who performed for the team in 1996, its inaugural season. Heaney, Knighton’s coach at UNC-Wilmington, recommended him to former Revolution coach Steve Nicol and enlisted the team’s first equipment manager, Dennis Ruddy, to assist.
Knighton sent along “an old VHS tape,” paid his way to Boston, and was welcomed at Logan Airport by Ruddy.
“He was awesome, a huge Celtic supporter,” Knighton said recently. “I stayed at his house for the tryout and he took me to the airport the next morning.”
Knighton’s one-shot performance in the bubble — now the Socios.com Fieldhouse — led to an invitation to compete in preseason training in Bermuda, Mexico, and New Orleans, where his first 90-minute stint with the Revolution produced a 3-1 win over Honduran champion CD Olimpia.
But with Matt Reis in goal, there were few opportunities to start. Knighton captured titles in the 2007 US Open Cup and ‘08 North American SuperLiga as a backup, but did not get into a regular-season game until the 2009 season opener as Reis was injured.
Knighton also was on the Revolution bench for the 2007 and ‘14 MLS Cups, and started the 2016 US Open Cup final, a 4-2 loss at FC Dallas. He totaled 68 appearances in all competitions with the Revolution, and became established as being among the league’s most dependable backups. Knighton made his second season-opening start in 2019, but returned to the bench as Turner emerged.
When the Revolution won the 2021 Supporters’ Shield, Knighton played a key role, performing in goal for five wins in six games, compiling a 326-minute shutout streak. Knighton also competed for the Philadelphia Union in 2010 and Vancouver Whitecaps in 2012-13, and won the 2011 NASL regular-season title with the North Carolina RailHawks.
“Obviously, that’s the ultimate prize, right, to win MLS Cup,” Knighton said. “Everyone that I’ve played with should be able to hold their head high and think we’ve had a successful career.
“But, ultimately, the tipping point is the MLS Cup. We’ve fallen short on numerous occasions, but I think the future is bright and we’ll get there one day eventually. I know we will.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.