Keepers giving MLS some intriguing early season storylines

There’s some urgency behind Dayne St. Clair’s efforts to make the most of every opportunity in goal.

The Minnesota United goalkeeper not only wants to prove his worth as a starter in Major League Soccer, he’s also got a grander objective: the World Cup.

St. Clair was the MLS Player of the Week this past week after making eight saves in Minnesota’s 1-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls. He stopped Patryk Klimala’s penalty kick in the 14th minute to remain perfect against the four penalties he’s faced in MLS play.

With the MLS season in its early stages, goalkeepers like St. Clair are grabbing attention.

The 24-year-old St. Clair has been vocal about wanting more minutes in Minnesota and got the start against the Red Bulls because Tyler Miller was out with the flu. A Canadian, St. Clair is trying to create a strong enough impression to be considered for his national team with Canada vying for a World Cup berth.

“Obviously, it’s a World Cup year for me with Canada doing so well and wanting to get my name back in that fold and be a part of those camps. Of course, club football is big but on a bigger scale, being a part of that World Cup roster is definitely one of my goals and I know in order to do that, I need to be playing games,” St. Clair said.

Minnesota coach Adrian Heath understands.

“Obviously, he’s very frustrated at the minute, and I get that. The World Cup around the corner, it’s looking like Canada are going to go there so he’s desperate to be playing,” Heath said. “But the one thing, as he proved, I said to him, you know what happens in football, it can change like a flick of the switch, and suddenly he’s got an opportunity and he’s taken it today.”

St. Clair played two seasons at Maryland, helping the Terrapins win the 2018 NCAA College Cup title. He was drafted by Minnesota with the seventh overall pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

He’s bounced around a bit, loaned to lower tier Forward Madison in 2019 and San Antonio FC in 2020, but at the end of last season he signed a three-year extension with an option for a fourth year.

St. Clair has played in just one match for Canada as it attempts to secure a spot in Qatar, but it was a shutout.

“He’s not happy being second fiddle all season and he’s let me know that. But that’s part of my job. I have to pick one goalkeeper. It’s not like an outfield player when you can play with positions,” Heath said. “It’s tough for him. But as I say, he’s got tremendous upside, we really liked him, that’s why we drafted him in the first place.”

Minnesota hosts the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday.

Other goalkeepers currently attracting attention:

GABRIEL SLONINA, Chicago Fire

The 17-year-old known as Gaga has yet to allow a goal this season, making Chicago just the eighth team in MLS history with three straight shutouts to start the season. He’s made six saves.

The Fire is the only team that hasn’t allowed a goal in MLS play so far this season.

Slonina made four saves in Chicago’s 2-0 victory at D.C. United last weekend. The Fire will try to make it four shutouts in a row against Kansas City at Soldier Field on Saturday.

MATT TURNER, New England

There are a lot of eyes on New England goalkeeper Matt Turner and he hasn’t played a single minute this season.

That’s because Turner, who sustained an ankle-foot injury in a preseason match, doesn’t just have the Revolution on his plate: He’s also started the past three World Cup qualifying matches for the U.S. national team.

Turner took over national team duty while Zack Steffen nursed a sore back and shoulder that have kept him sidelined since Feb. 5. Steffen dressed for Manchester City’s match against Crystal Palace on Monday but hasn’t yet played.

It’s unclear if either goalkeeper will be ready when the United States plays the first of its final three qualifiers at Mexico on March 24.

Earl Edwards Jr. has started in net for New England’s MLS matches so far this season. Turner only has a few more months with the Revs because he’s heading to Arsenal this summer.

MAXIME CREPEAU, LAFC

Maxime Crepeau is also looking to book a trip to Qatar with Canada.

The product of the Montreal Impact Academy was traded from the Whitecaps to LAFC in the offseason. He played for his national team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup last summer and started three World Cup qualifiers in October.

Veteran Milan Borjan has started for Canada’s most recent qualifiers. Canada currently sits atop the table among the CONCACAF teams vying for a spot in Qatar.

With LAFC, Crepeau has allowed just one goal so far this season, second fewest in the league behind Slonina. He’s made six saves.

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