Brad Knighton couldn't have picked a better time to play the best game of his professional career. With new signing David Ousted watching from the stands, the Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper produced a string of saves to lead his team to 2-0 win against Seattle Sounders on Saturday.
Knighton's outstanding performance earned him Major League Soccer's Player of the Week award, and it also left head coach Martin Rennie with no choice to make about who will start in goal when the surging Whitecaps host Chicago Fire at BC Place on Sunday. It was the club's second shutout in the last three matches.
Knighton deserves big credit for how he has responded in the last couple of weeks following the signing of a new goalkeeper by the Whitecaps. He admitted after the match that the presence of Ousted in the Whitecaps locker room has lifted the level of his own game.
"That's the best game I've ever played. By far, hands down", said the 28-year-old from North Carolina. "You don't want to be dropped from a team and it is my job to put in performances like that to make him think twice about taking me out of the lineup."
"It has been nice having him (Ousted) here because it is going to push me and make me better. You want competition in every position and bringing David in is going to do that. What you've seen from the two weeks he has been here, it has changed my mentality and it is probably the best I have ever played."
On Friday, I had the chance to spend some time in the company of Ousted. The Danish 'keeper looks an impressive figure both on and off the pitch. He's a commanding presence in his penalty area, a strong shot-stopper and has an excellent long throw to start attacks. He clearly understands what is expected of him and is already settling well into his new club and country.
The Whitecaps didn't bring in a new goalkeeper from Europe midway through the season with the plan of leaving him on the bench, so at some stage soon it's likely the big Dane will get his chance. For now though, it is Knighton's job to lose, and he showed on Saturday that he won't be giving up his position without a fight.
Knighton's play was just one highlight on a night that will be remembered by 'Caps fans for a long time to come. In front of a sell-out season-high crowd of 22,500, the Whitecaps managed to beat their closest rivals for the first time since joining MLS. More importantly, they opened up a five-point gap between themselves and Seattle in the Western Conference playoff race.
Kenny Miller's value to the team was evident once again, and his finish for the opening goal after just four minutes was sublime. He timed his run to perfection. It was also great to see Darren Mattocks take his goal so well to seal the win in the closing stages.
It has been a difficult year for the Jamaican speedster, but Mattocks certainly didn't look low on confidence when he raced in behind the Sounders defence and flicked the ball brilliantly past Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurining to make it 2-0. We haven't seen it much this year, but Saturday was another reminder of how Mattocks' pace can be a game changer.
Following on from his excellent display in Kansas City, Honduran defender Johnny Leveron had another impressive display in the centre of defence and I thought the often-criticized Jun Marques Davidson had a fantastic game. It was probably the best Davidson has played since joining the 'Caps, protecting the back four and ensuring Sounders forward Obafemi Martins had no space to create. Corey Hertzog was also extremely effective in his role on the right side of the Whitecaps' three-man attack.
Beating Seattle, and winning against Cascadia opposition for the first time was a massive hurdle for the Whitecaps to overcome. The win ensured the Whitecaps remain unbeaten at home this season and extended their current unbeaten run in MLS to five matches. It was their fifth win in the last seven games since tying with Montreal at the end of May to fail in their bid to win the Amway Canadian Championship. They have taken 16 points from a possible 21. Right now, the Whitecaps are one of the form teams in MLS, and it's been a total team effort to get them there.