A goalkeeper’s son, Minnesota United’s Dayne St. Clair found his love for that position himself and his own path to Major League Soccer — and maybe beyond.
His father, Fabian, played keeper growing up in Trinidad and Tobago. Fabian’s son, born and raised in suburban Toronto, followed behind with a soccer ball at his feet, or often in his hands.
“Ever since I could walk, I played soccer,” St. Clair said. “It definitely was my passion since I was a little kid. My dad, he never pushed me into it. It was something I developed on my own. Just watching soccer with him, the passion in me just grew. He saw it and helped guide me through it.”
Left-footed, St. Clair played center back with his feet and goalkeeper with his hands in his youth. He chose the position at which he starred in Ontario secondary-school and development leagues and played when he won the 2018 NCAA title with current Loons teammate Chase Gasper at Maryland.
Selected seventh in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, Minnesota United’s goalkeeper of the future now at age 23 is its keeper of the present. He has become so after starter Tyler Miller needed season-ending hip surgery and coach Adrian Heath turned to St. Clair after the Loons went 0-3 in backup Greg Ranjitsingh’s starts.
St. Clair is 2-2-1 with a clean sheet in five starts that allowed him to find what he calls “rhythm.” He also is showing the qualities — height (6-3), reach, range, composure and the ability to advance the ball with his feet — that define the best modern-day keepers in MLS and worldwide.
“The kid has done well,” Heath said. “His general keeping of the goal has been excellent.”
St. Clair was shuttled to the Loons’ Forward Madison USL affiliate last season and loaned to San Antonio for five months this season during the pandemic shutdown. He played five games there in July before he was recalled and found what Heath calls most important for young keepers.
“He’s playing meaningful football,” Heath said. “That’s the big thing for young players when they come to the professional game, the importance of every single time they play. They’ve played football for the love of it, but when it becomes your job and it becomes people’s livelihoods — not only his teammates, but coaching staff with so much more is at stake — that’s where he has gotten a better grasp of it.”
Heath calls St. Clair “very assured, very calm and confident,” a young goalkeeper who is a man of few words in media interviews. St Clair is emotionally steady but expressive when needed on the field.
“When I step on the field, I become a different person,” St. Clair said. “As a player, you want to show your personality. I try to do that every time I step onto the field. I think people feed off that as well.”
He showed as much with a primal shout after he stopped former teammate Darwin Quintero on a penalty kick last Saturday in Houston. He avoided getting scored upon with another penalty kick when the Columbus Crew’s Lucas Zelarayan shot high over the goal on Wednesday.
“I don’t know if he’s claiming the second one,” Heath said, laughing. “He’s got a nerve if he has.”
A player whom Loons goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr calls a “colorful kid,” St. Clair shows his individuality in another way as well: His hair is highlighted blond by a stylist cousin and has been since his Maryland days.
“I decided to try something new and kind of liked it,” he said. “And the guys said, ‘You can’t change it now.’ So we’ll see how long it lasts.”
St. Clair is the latest in a line of Maryland keepers who play professionally. It includes DC United’s Chris Seitz, Real Salt Lake’s Zac MacMath and former Columbus Crew keeper Zack Steffen, who made his Manchester City debut Thursday.
Steffen’s success shows others — St. Clair included — a path to England’s Premier League or Germany’s Bundesliga.
“Every footballer wants to play at the highest level they can play possible,” St. Clair said, “but obviously my focus right now is with Minnesota.”
Kerr said St. Clair has all the physical tools and the temperament to someday play anywhere in the world. All he needs is experience and better decisionmaking, which Kerr said will come.
“It’s all in his hands if he keeps learning and listening to people who have been there,” Kerr said. “He has a real chance of doing that. He’s what European teams are looking for. But first and foremost, he has to focus here. Somewhere down the line, he might get the opportunity to go to Europe and achieve what he wants to achieve.
“It’s definitely in his hands.”