MLS All-Star Game: Loons goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair has opportunity for a ‘limitless’ career
One of Dayne St. Clair’s first soccer memories is from roughly 20 years ago with him juggling a plastic balloon at his grandmother’s home in the Toronto area. The young Canadian wasn’t yet good enough with his feet to keep a heavier soccer ball aloft; he needed an inflatable orb that would hang in the air a bit longer.
Now 25, St. Clair’s goalkeeping career resembles a balloon. It’s just waiting to be booted higher and he possesses too much talent to let it pop or even hiss out air.
In his fourth year with Minnesota United, St. Clair will play in the MLS All-Star Game against Mexico’s Liga MX at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Allianz Field in St. Paul. This fall, St. Clair is expected to be named a reserve on the Canadian men’s national team for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
St. Clair, one of the best shot-stoppers in MLS this season, appears to be one injury away from playing in the sport’s biggest tournament. If he does well on that stage, his career — including aspirations to play in one of Europe’s top leagues — could lift off like a hot-air balloon.
“Every player wants to test themselves at the highest level that they can,” St. Clair told the Pioneer Press last week. “Of course, I’m no different.”
St. Clair also knows nothing grand happens if he’s not putting in the work and playing well now. His nonlinear career is proof of that.
Each tattoo on St. Clair’s left-arm sleeve has a meaning. There’s the dove on his shoulder to memorialize his late maternal grandmother, Betty, who let Dayne juggle the balloon inside her home. That tatted bird is flying over an image of the CN Tower, an iconic building in the Toronto skyline.
“And kind of just flying over my heart to protect me,” St. Clair said.
On his bicep is the word “family” between a heart and a soccer ball. He has the national flower of Trinidad, where his father Fabian is from, and the national flower of Scotland, where his mother Julie hails. They met in Toronto, where Dayne and his sibling Arisa were born.
Dayne has a tat of a Canadian maple leaf, and each member of his family picked a playing card, which were inked on his forearm. He has a jack-o-lantern to commemorate the births of his mom and grandmother on Halloween. There is Taurus for St. Clair’s astrological sign, and the date of his grandmother’s passing on his wrist.
Fabian played goalkeeper and Julie’s family has been big supporters of Celtic FC in Glasgow, so soccer is in his blood. But Dayne dabbled in basketball, baseball and volleyball.
Fabian would take Dayne down to the family’s basement to do box-step ups onto a cooler and out to the park to go through extra soccer training drills.
“He wasn’t that good; make sure you put that in the story,” Dayne said laughing during the interview. “He likes to say that I learned a lot from him, but he wasn’t that good. I do remember going to the park. He would search YouTube drills to train me. His commitment was there. Definitely some home-school training.”
At 15, St. Clair played on multiple teams within the Vaughan Soccer Club in Ontario and decided not to join Toronto FC’s academy. He dashed some local belief that he needed to be a homegrown player for the nearby MLS club.
“They never liked the fact that I never chose to go to TFC,” St. Clair shared. “The way I looked at is my team (at Vaughan) would beat TFC’s (academy teams). At the time, I didn’t necessarily see a pathway for me because they had Quillan Roberts at the time. I trained with him a couple of times. He was a few years older than me and never was really able to push through (into MLS).”
The University of Maryland had star goalkeeper Zack Steffen leave early to play for Freiburg in Germany, so Carmine Isacco, a leader at Vaughan and a former Terrapins goalkeeper, telephoned Terps head coach Sasho Cirovski.
“When Carm called me, he essentially said, ‘Look, I’ve got the Canadian Zack Steffen for you,’ ” Cirovski told the Pioneer Press. That resonated with Cirovski because Isacco “usually downplays people.”
St. Clair arrived in College Park, Md., and had a rough outing his freshman year against Akron in 2015, conceding three goals, including two to Richie Laryea.
St. Clair blames Laryea, his current Canadian men’s national teammate, for how he “ruined my college career for two years. (I) kind of, from there, lost the starting spot.”
St. Clair was also spending time with Canadian youth teams and redshirted in 2016. Cirovski credited St. Clair for sticking it out with the Big Ten program. St. Clair admitted he consider leaving Maryland, with interest piqued by Syracuse, where he could have joined Canadian teammate Kamal Miller, who is now an MLS All-Star with CF Montreal.
St. Clair became the Terps’ starter in 2017 and led them to an NCAA championship in 2018. He did not give up a goal for the final 500 minutes of that 2018 season, including a big-time reaction save to preserve a 1-0 NCAA tournament win at Kentucky.
‘Getting past it’
MNUFC drafted St. Clair seventh overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, then the rookie sat behind veteran Vito Mannone before a loan to Forward Madison in USL League One.
In 2020, St. Clair was behind newly acquired Tyler Miller and again went out on loan, this time to San Antonio in the USL Championship. He played five games.
“I give Dayne credit,” Loons goalkeeping coach Stew Kerr said. “I’ve been around goalkeepers who don’t even want to go on loan because they have it comfortable here. The training. Everything’s good and done for them. In USL, things are not done as well. .. That’s his mentality as well. He wants to be the best.”
As COVID-19 hijacked the 2020 regular season, Miller opted for surgery on both hips and St. Clair got his shot.
Legendary MLS goalkeeper Nick Rimando got his break with Miami Fusion in a similar fashion. Jeff Cassar and Garth Lagerwey were injured in 2000 and Rimando came in as a rookie.
“It can be funny position to be in,” Rimando told the Pioneer Press. “I just kind of took advantage of my position.”
Rimando went on to make more than 500 MLS appearances, primarily with Real Salt Lake.
In 2020, St. Clair was thrust into the starting spot before he was ready, Kerr said. But St. Clair shined, giving up only one 1.0 goals per game in the final 13 regular-season games. He had two shutouts in the first two rounds of the MLS Cup Playoffs before conceding three in the Western Conference final loss to Seattle Sounders.
In 2021, MNUFC started 0-4 and St. Clair was pulled; Miller stepped in for the rest of the season and a one-and-done playoff loss to Portland. It was a bitter pill for St. Clair to swallow.
“I felt like I was punished, even though it wasn’t necessarily my fault,” St. Clair said. But late last year, he re-signed with MNUFC; it’s a three-year contract, with a club option for 2025.
This season, Miller started the opening two games, but he got ill just before the road game at New York Red Bulls in early March. St. Clair stepped in, made some acrobatic, wonder saves and was named MLS Player of the Week.
“Just kind of luckily, my opportunity came early on this year,” St. Clair reflected. “It could have went a lot differently, if that wasn’t the case.”
Going into last weekend, St. Clair was the top-graded shot-stopper in MLS, according to Pro Football Focus FC. His 91.8 grade was nearly four points better than Carlos Coronel of the New York Red Bulls.
At that point, Kerr said there was only one goal allowed — against New England in mid-June — that he would chalk up as St. Clair’s fault. Then St. Clair bobbled two shots that directly led to Gyasi Zardes goals in a 4-3 loss to Colorado Rapids on Saturday. It was far and away his worst game of 2022.
Kerr said last week that if there are fewer than four goals that can be considered the keeper’s fault over a full year, it would be a “fantastic season.”
Rimando has been there, done that, too. “You might have mess-ups or bad goals, but ‘it has to get through 10 players before it gets to you’; that is what my mom always told me,” he said. “I gave up a lot of (expletive) goals in my career. It’s just getting past it.”
Dwayne De Rosario cried the day Canada won the CONCACAF region this spring and qualified for the World Cup. The Canadian men’s national team’s all-time leading scorer credited the growth of MLS for providing a breeding ground for so many key Canadian players, including St. Clair.
“I’m so happy for the kid,” said De Rosario, the 2011 MLS MVP. “Just to see a humble kid and one that works so hard. He is so young and has so much more to be. … This is what sets your career up.”
The 6-foot-3 St. Clair attends De Rosario’s pick-up games in Scarborough, Ontario, during the offseason but never wants to play in net in those scrimmages. “He tries to dribble and stuff like that,” De Rosario said. “For a big kid, he’s got good feet.”
Kerr has coached some great goalkeepers, including Julio Cesar, who played for Inter Milan and the Brazilian national team, and Darren Randolph, who played for clubs across England and Ireland’s national team. Kerr can see St. Clair reach those heights, too.
“I think his career is limitless,” Kerr said. “I really do.”
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