Canadian goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair set to start MLS season as Minnesota's No. 1
When opportunity knocked, Dayne St. Clair was ready last season.
The Canadian goalkeeper got his chance in Minnesota United's third game of the year after starter Tyler Miller was sidelined by the flu. St. Clair responded with an MLS player of the week performance against the New York Red Bulls, making eight saves including stopping a Patryk Klimala penalty kick.
The 25-year-old from Pickering, Ont., started the rest of the season, finishing with five shutouts, a 1.52 goals-against average and 14-14-4 record. His 109 saves ranked third in the league behind Portland's Aljaz Ivacic (112) and San Jose's J.T. Marcinkowski (111).
St. Clair was also named to the MLS all-star team, earning MVP honours in the 2-1 win over Mexico's Liga MX all-stars at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn.
Couple that with a trip to the World Cup in Qatar with Canada and St. Clair is riding a high as he goes into the regular season as Minnesota's No. 1.
But the six-foot-three 'keeper is taking nothing for granted.
"Going into the last few pre-seasons, me and Tyler definitely had some battles and both thought that we deserved to be the No. 1 and thought that we should be starting here," he said. "Obviously with him departing and going to D.C. (United) that's kind of opened up the spot a little bit more and given me some more breathing room.
"But at the same time Clint (Irwin) has come in and he's done really well. I know that I need to keep pushing myself and performing to be able to keep him out."
The 33-year-old Irwin joined Minnesota in December, signing a two-year contract with a club option as a free agent. Irwin spent 2016 to 2018 with Toronto FC, with stints with the Colorado Rapids before and after.
St. Clair trained with a couple of MLS teams during the summer while at the University of Maryland. One of those teams was Toronto, at a time when Irwin was the club's No 1.
"Now to go full circle and be teammates now is kind of a cool experience," said St. Clair.
Minnesota selected St. Clair in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.
He played in 13 regular-season games with just 12 goals-against in 2020, recalled from his loan to San Antonio FC in the USL Championship in mid-August after Minnesota lost Miller to season-ending hip surgery.
Miller, a former LAFC goalkeeper, had taken the place of 2019 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone, who moved on to Monaco. Greg Ranjitsingh, now with Toronto, played the first three games in place of Miller before coach Adrian Heath handed the starting job to St. Clair.
St. Clair started the first four games of the 2021 season — conceding 10 goals — then gave way to Miller. He started Minnesota's 3-1 loss to Portland in the first round of the playoffs after Miller was sidelined by COVID.
"Like anything it's going to have its ups and downs," St. Clair said of his time with Minnesota. "The 2020 season was my breakout season, then 2021 was a disappointment. That led into the beginning of 2022 when I was able to win the starting job back."
"I'm looking forward to taking another step again and seeing where that takes me," he added.
He says he is looking for more consistency this season.
"I know I've had those top-end performances and I know I can bring that week-in week-out, so it's just focusing on those little things to allow me to continue to be successful again."
There is more Canadian content on the Loons roster this season with defender Doneil Henry, who joined Toronto FC last July before departing the team at the end of the season, and forward Tani Oluwaseyi, taken in the first round (17th overall) of the 2022 MLS SuperDraft from St. John’s University.
There are Canadian ties elsewhere in the club. Former Canadian international defender Mark Watson is Minnesota's technical director while Stewart Kerr is goalkeeping coach, a role he previously had at Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
St. Clair was 15 years old when he made his debut in the Canadian youth program in 2013 with coach Robert Gale. He made his senior debut at 24 in a 7-0 win over Aruba in a World Cup qualifier in June 2022. His other cap was in a World Cup warmup, a 2-2 tie in Bahrain, in November.
St. Clair started out as an outfield player, making the move to goalkeeper at age 14.
He developed at Ajax FC under Dario Gasparotto, now a staff coach at FC Durham Academy. He then joined Vaughan Soccer Club where he worked closely with Patrice Gheisar, now coach of the CPL's HFX Wanderers FC.
He was recruited by Maryland, which was looking for a replacement for Zack Steffen, a U.S. international now in England with Middlesbrough on loan from Manchester City.
Minnesota, which opens the regular season Feb. 25 at FC Dallas, is slated to play the Red Bulls, San Jose Earthquakes and Vancouver Whitecaps at the pre-season Coachella Valley Invitational in Indio, Calif.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2023.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press