He’s the replacement to the replacement to the replacement for 2019 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone.
Dayne St. Clair played every minute in every game during Maryland’s NCAA championship run two years ago and didn’t surrender a goal in those final 500 minutes.
His Loons have reached the Western Conference final Monday night in Seattle with the right to play the MLS Cup final at home in Allianz Field next Saturday still in sight.
They’ve done so with St. Clair as the 23-year-old backstop to a defense that has won its past three games by identical 3-0 scores.
The Loons and St. Clair haven’t allowed a goal since the 52nd minute of a 2-2 home draw with Chicago more than a month ago.
They’ve done so after defender Michael Boxall saved one goal with his head in Thursday’s first 90 seconds and St. Clair saved two more with his positioning and reflexes in the first 15 minutes. Each in its own way changed the game.
“When you make saves like that, it gives the team a boost,” St. Clair said. “It gives motivation. As they kept putting on pressure, we know we can be really deadly on the counter. It opened up space.”
From there, the Loons scored three times — twice by Kevin Molino, all three assisted by Emanuel Reynoso — before halftime.
St. Clair started the season loaned to San Antonio in USL Championship and quarantined by COVID-19. He was recalled in August only after starter Tyler Miller — acquired in a trade with LAFC last winter to replace Mannone — needed season-ending hip surgery.
He became the starter when veteran backup Greg Ranjitsingh and the team went 0-3 in a regular-season restart immediately after Miller was sidelined.
Loons coach Adrian Heath explains St. Clair’s success simply.
“He’s really good,” Heath said. “We knew that. That’s why we drafted him as high as we did.”
The Loons took Generation Adidas player St. Clair seventh overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft and groomed him both in MLS and USL play for the past year until he assumed the starter’s job on Sept. 6 and delivered a 4-0 clean sheet against Real Salt Lake in his MLS debut.
“The loan was beneficial to me because I was able to get comfortable playing games and then I was able to come back continuing to do well,” St. Clair said. “It has been a great year for me, and I hope to keep it going. “I just feel more and more comfortable with every game. I know I’ve played in big games before, and I hope to continue to in my career.”
Heath hired experienced goalkeeper coach Stewart Kerr, a longtime acquaintance, late last season, in good part to help nurture the team’s prized prospect.
“He was really, really high on Dayne and he kept saying there was going to be a time,” Heath said, referring to Kerr. “We probably threw him in the deep end a bit quicker than we anticipated, but he has been fantastic. The one thing I can say about Dayne is, he’s saved everything he should save and then he has come up with big saves in the big moments. That’s a top-class goalkeeper.”
Boxall said he recognized as much midway through last season, from small-sided games played at training. He said he was surprised when St. Clair was loaned out to start this season.
“He’s absolutely class,” Boxall said. “He has been absolutely outstanding. I’m so happy everyone else gets to see it outside of us up at Blaine because he’s a class goalkeeper. He has got so much to improve on, too, and I think the ceiling’s pretty high for this kid.”
Like St. Clair six years after him, another Maryland goalkeeper played every minute of the Terrapins’ season, and now Zack Steffen is in England’s Premier League with Manchester City by way of Columbus Crew and Germany’s Bundesliga.
Heath predicts big things coming for St. Clair, too.
“If he keeps listening, if he keeps doing his job, doesn’t get carried and stays injury-free,” Heath said, “the kid has got a big future.”