BURNABY, B.C. - Joe Cannon does not want to wear the backup label with the Vancouver Whitecaps this season.
But if necessary, the 38-year-old goalkeeper is still willing to watch more often from the bench.
"Labels and titles like that, people can do whatever they want," Cannon said after a pre-season training session Saturday. "I could care less.
"I'm really just excited to be back with the club. Whatever they want me to do, I'm here to do it for them."
Cannon's future with Vancouver was in question at the end of the last season after he was displaced as the starter by Brad Knighton for the stretch run and playoffs.
"In the beginning, (the goal) was just to come back in and compete for a job," said Cannon, who got married in the early days of the pre-season training period. "At the end of last year, I'm sure, it was a question mark on how I'd come back in.
"So I tried to come back in fit. I'm just ready to do whatever the team needs me to do. Being an older guy, I'm going to help out off the field as much as possible, mentor some of these young up-and-coming kids and, on the field, obviously, compete for a spot."
In the off-season, Cannon hired a personal trainer to help him get in the best shape possible. While there was confusion about his status at the end of 2012, he vowed to be the club's best goalkeeper and put the team ahead of personal gain.
"You have to take yourself out of the equation and look at the bigger picture," he said. "While I'm here, I'm going to be not only the best goalkeeper, but the best person that the Whitecaps could have to promote their team."
So far, Cannon has done his part on the field well. He has allowed only one goal while playing one half in pre-season wins over the New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo. Coach Martin Rennie called the goalkeeper's play to date "fantastic."
"He's been a breath of fresh air — he's done really well since he's come back, and is pushing hard," said Rennie.
Cannon started the 2012 season extremely well, posting five shutouts in six games in the early going, but watched the final seven regular-season games and lone playoff contest from the bench. He finished the season with eight clean sheets and a 1.34 goals-against average.
Knighton's insertion into the No. 1 spot appeared to signal a change of Vancouver's goalkeeping guard. But, with about a month remaining before the opening of the 2013 season, Rennie said the starter role is still up for grabs.
Knighton is looking to keep the No. 1 assignment that he held in key games, including Vancouver's 2-1 playoff loss to eventual MLS champion L.A. Galaxy.
"Once I start having questions in my mind or doubts, that's when that stuff starts to float in your mind, and mistakes happen," said Knighton. "I finished the season on a high. I'm looking to continue that through pre-season and the start of the season."
He vowed to force Rennie to make a tough decision when it comes to the selection of the starting goalkeeper on opening day March 2 at home against Toronto FC. In the meantime, he is enjoying to competition for starter status with Cannon.
"Pre-season's been good," said Knighton, 27. "We're both pushing each other. It's just one of those things where we're both, I think, capable of playing and being a No. 1 in this league."
Similar comments have come from Vancouver Canucks goaltenders Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo when discussing their playing status with the NHL club. Both Cannon and Knighton have also played like their Canucks counterparts in two exhibition games against MLS opposition.
"I guess Vancouver's always had a controversy for goalkeepers or goaltenders, whatever you say (in hockey)," Knighton said with a chuckle. "It's just: Throw the mix and see what happens."
Knighton and Cannon also sound like Schneider and Luongo when it comes to putting their desire for as much playing time as possible aside for a greater purpose.
"Obviously, the coach has the final say, the last laugh, and whatever he ends up deciding, he feels is going to be best for the team," said Knighton. "Either (Cannon) or I are going to be on board with it."
Notes: The Caps brought in midfielder Aminu Abdallah and defender Emmanuel Adjetey, who are both from Ghana, on trials Saturday. South African defender Ethen Sampson, 19, described as one of his country's top young players, also arrived for a tryout. ... Striker Darren Mattocks missed training because he was in his native Jamaica for personal reasons. He is due back with the team Monday. ... Omar Salgado, recuperating from a broken foot suffered while playing for the U.S. under-20 team last season, worked out on his own. ... The Whitecaps head to South Carolina next week for five pre-season games against MLS and lower-tier pro and college teams.