By Terry Jacoby/weloveannarbor.com
Many high school soccer players these days play the great sport of soccer year-round, participating with one of the several outstanding club programs in the area. In fact, some really good players don’t even play high school soccer, instead playing club full-time, year-round, 24-7.
Dan McDonough has taken his “off-season” playing to another level – and another continent. The Pioneer senior plays his club soccer for a team from Massama, Portugal.
“I had the opportunity this past summer to go to the Lisbon area in an International Academy for training and was able to have a couple of trials,” said McDonough, who ended up signing U-19 contract with Real Sport Clube for the 2021-2022 season. “They play in the second division of soccer in Portugal. The season has already started but I had to come home to get a visa in order to be able to stay until the end of the season in June of 2022. I am hoping to get back in October, but in the meantime, I’ve been able to play for and be a captain for Pioneer.”
McDonough has helped captain the Pioneers to an SEC Red Division title after Pioneer knocked off Saline 2-1. All the big teams – Pioneer, Skyline, Saline – in the Red will see each other again beginning this week when Districts kick-off at Skyline.
And so far, the Pioneers have come up big in the big games.
“We have definitely shown well in our big games this season,” McDonough said. “A tough tie with Skyline in a pretty even game and then a loss to Saline earlier in the season could’ve gone either way. We played a hard-fought game with Skyline the second time and only managed a tie which was a little disappointing considering how well we played.
“I think this year, we’re all even. I don’t feel like there’s that much of a difference or should be that much of a difference with how it feels going into any game, even against a good team like Saline or Skyline. A game is a game. Pressure and nerves are all mental. I don’t get any more nervous for a game against them then against a less skillful team.”
As much as McDonough wants to get back to Portugal and pursuing his dream of playing professional soccer, he is still happy to be home playing with his friends and winning soccer games.
“We have a really good group of guys this year and the team dynamic has been a lot different and more cohesive and positive than other years,” he says. “I think the team is strong enough and has a good enough dynamic that, with some fine-tuning and training, we can have a good run this postseason.”
Part of that cohesive and positive atmosphere is a result of the leadership both on and off the pitch. And McDonough takes his job as a captain seriously.
“I think that being a captain really means to be leading by example,” he says. “If I’m not doing the right thing, I can’t expect the rest of the team to be. I also think that although I am a captain, it is always good to have other people’s input and help.
“As a team, we collectively have to be united and help one another out, captain or non-captain. I do think that I can be a very critical captain. I expect a lot from the team, not because I enjoy seeing people fall short but because I know that each of us has the potential to help make the team better.”
McDonough, 17, has been getting better since he first walked onto the pitch at Pioneer. He was only one of two freshmen to play JV as a ninth-grader and then made the jump to varsity as a sophomore.
“I was the only sophomore to make varsity that year and didn’t play a minute in the first four or five games,” he said. “I didn’t make it into the starting 11 that year but came up big off the bench a couple of times.”
Last year as a junior, McDonough was named one of the team captains and earned First Team All-SEC honors.
The son of Lisa Hirsch and Tom McDonough, Dan has a 3.89 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society. Off the pitch, he enjoys playing the piano and studying sports medicine.
McDonough started playing soccer before kindergarten in a local peewee league and played for his Ann Arbor school’s teams. He went to Ann Arbor Open and played for the Firebolts from kindergarten to third grade.
“I think the appeal I found in the sport of soccer was how dynamic the game was,” he said. “Once the whistle blew there was no set way or set play to follow, it was just to figure out how to get the ball into the back of the net. I still love how dynamic the game is and how it is a thinking person’s sport.
“From a young age I fell in love with the sport, and even though I played other sports throughout elementary and middle school, like basketball and flag football, soccer was always my number one.”
He hopes to someday play his No. 1 at the No. 1 level.
“My ultimate goal with soccer is to play professionally,” he says. “I have not picked a college because I am planning on taking a gap year next year to continue playing in Portugal to see what opportunities may open up there. At this point, if I were to go to college, it would be in the fall of 2023 and I would definitely try to play soccer. But for me, the dream has always been professional so I don’t want to settle for college, not at this point.”