When Minnesota United selected Maryland goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair seventh overall in January’s MLS SuperDraft, it made a play for the future during a winter in which it pursued many moves for the present.
Four months later, United coach Adrian Heath foresees that future long and promising, even if St. Clair hasn’t yet played an MLS minute.
St. Clair started and finished in a 1-0 friendly loss to the German Bundesliga’s Hertha Berlin on Wednesday at Allianz Field. He allowed a rebound goal just before halftime in a performance that Heath said otherwise offered “really good stuff.”
United chose St. Clair because he embodies many qualities — 6-3 height, reach, range, composure and the ability to move the ball forward smoothly with his feet — that define the best modern goalkeepers.
“I like him a lot,” Heath said. “The kid has a huge chance. Made big saves. Looked competent. Made good decisions. Kicking was good. He made the odd little mistake, but for a young kid who’s in the infancy of his career, I thought he showed a lot of promise.”
So far, St. Clair has played a preseason game and another with United’s Forward Madison FC affiliate as well as the friendly that impressed Heath and introduced St. Clair to the home crowd at the team’s new stadium.
“Playing in front of the home fans for the first time, you felt it,” St. Clair said. “I think I’ve done well so far, but there’s always room for improvement. Being a rookie, there are always things you can learn and apply every day that will make me better.
“I can do better [than Wednesday] in game management, being cleaner in every aspect. Communication is a little different when 20,000 people are yelling, so I’ll work on that, as well.”
St. Clair, who turned 22 two weeks ago, is third on United’s depth chart behind starter Vito Mannone and backup Bobby Shuttleworth. He’s a prospect who’s likely at least two seasons from becoming the MLS goalkeeper he can be.
Until then, Heath and United will develop him as quickly as they can in daily training, by sending him to Madison when the schedule allows, and perhaps by playing him in an upcoming U.S. Open Cup game and a July friendly against English club Aston Villa.
“Training is one thing, games are another,” United goalkeeper coach John Pascarella said. “We’ll find the right places and times to get him games, and you’ll see him start to become more of a regular player for us.”
St. Clair didn’t allow a goal in last season’s final 500 minutes at Maryland and led his team to an NCAA championship. Another collegiate goalkeeper developed there, Columbus’ Zack Steffen, has played four MLS seasons. He was the league’s 2018 Goalkeeper of the Year and is due to transfer to Manchester City in England’s Premier League come July.
Pascarella praises St. Clair’s calm demeanor and intense training habits.
“He doesn’t lose his mind, he doesn’t have ups and downs emotionally,” Pascarella said. “He’s just a nice, even, steady guy. That’s what you need in this game, especially at his position. He comes to us with a lot of that already. I think it’s just his nature. I certainly can tell you it’s not from me.”
Heath discussed with St. Clair the lone goal he allowed Wednesday. The rookie needed either to catch a speedy shot or direct it wider left out of danger.
“He’s aware of that,” Heath said. “He’s a young boy in terms of goalkeeping. He’s got maybe another 18, 20 years of him. He’ll learn. We’ve got a really good prospect. That’s what he is. If he listens and learns and works hard, he has a great opportunity of making a good career for himself.”