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Before the CONCACAF Gold Cup had begun, Canadian men's national team coach John Herdman reportedly promised his 26-year-old backup goalkeeper "an opportunity to stake his claim." Minnesota United fans knew him as Dayne St. Clair.

And the soccer world did, too, after Sunday's quarterfinals in Cincinnati.

Although the heavily favored U.S. outlasted Canada 3-2 on penalties at TQL Stadium, St. Clair staunchly defended his goal as if he'd done it for decades. The Pickering, Ont., native, in his fourth international appearance, entered the 88th minute with a clean sheet and finished with seven saves — including one that redirected a clean corner-kick header beyond the top bar to preserve a 1-1 tie in the 103rd minute.

"Whenever it goes to penalties, it's never easy," St. Clair told reporters postgame. "We wanted to bring the fight tonight and I think we left it all out there. Unlucky for us tonight, it didn't fall our way. ... But it still builds confidence for our team and [we] know that we can move on and push further."

Call it random chance, or fate, but St. Clair wasn't supposed to be there. In goal, that is.

When St. Clair was called up to the team last month, it was not to displace longtime member Milan Borjan. A 33-year-old goalie who made his international debut in 2011, Borjan led Canada to its first World Cup appearance in 36 years in Qatar and appeared too well-established for his young understudy to see serious time.

But Borjan, after two matches, suffered an unspecified injury unbeknownst to reporters before the team announced it.

With Borjan back in Europe, St. Clair stepped in for a must-win match against Cuba during group play, just the second non-friendly start of St. Clair's career. Herdman reportedly called the situation "serendipitous."

Then Canada won 4-2, setting the stage for his Sunday performance.

"[He'd] been sitting there patiently waiting for his opportunity," Loons coach Adrian Heath said. "But the one thing that John Herdman and their staff know is they've got a really capable goalkeeper."

Perhaps capable enough to anchor a late Loons push.

St. Clair was back alongside his Loons teammates Tuesday, as they prepare for four months' worth of matches that will decide whether they make the MLS Cup Playoffs for a fifth straight season. Considering the disparity between MNUFC's goals (22), total shots (262) and shots on goal (88), stellar play from St. Clair seems critical.

Despite having given up four goals to CF Montréal before he left, his regular-season performance has included five clean sheets in 16 starts. Seattle's Stefan Frei leads the league with 11, across five more starts made.

"Dayne's one of the best goalies in the league, in my opinion," Loons defender Zarek Valentin said. "I've only played with him a short time but even from afar, I've noticed his quality. And he has a voice, he's a leader on the team even though he's one of the [younger] mid-20s."

From Heath's perspective, St. Clair, a 2019 first-round pick, finds himself in the most important period of his young career. And his level of play at the Gold Cup, among the world's best teams and players, matched that magnitude.

"For him now, that's got to be his aim," Heath said. "I did say to him at the beginning of preseason that this is arguably the biggest two or three years in his career. ... He's with an incredible, probably the best generation of players that Canada have ever had.

"So the incentive for him to make that No. 1 shirt his own has probably never been as big as this because he has a real opportunity to establish himself as the No. 1 at a really important time."