By Jessica Bernheim
UMBC Assistant Director of Athletic Communications
When Dan Louisignau was nine years old, he asked his mom for gloves to wear during his chilly fall soccer games.
A forward, Louisignau intended for her to get him winter gloves with grips. Instead, she bought him goalkeeper gloves.
"I kind of felt bad. She was having a rough day, so I didn't want to tell her she got the wrong gloves," he said. "And that's how I started (playing goalie) – because I felt bad about my mom getting me the wrong pair (of gloves)."
Thirteen years later, Louisignau isn't sure his mom even knows the truth behind how he became a goalkeeper. But what he does know is it was probably the best mistake she could have made.
A fifth-year senior at UMBC, Louisignau has been named the America East Goalkeeper of the Year after topping the league in save percentage (.792), saves per game (4.94) and shutouts (7), all despite allowing 10 goals in the Retrievers' final three games of the regular season while playing without two of the team's top defenders.
"You have to take Dan's body of work throughout the year," head coach Pete Caringi said. "Dan was fantastic. The last three games, we gave up a lot of goals, but it's the team that gave up a lot of goals. We're not the same team as when we started the year with our defense. We've had a lot of adjustments, guys being injured, guys not playing for whatever reason, so it's been a topsy-turvy year. I think Dan has done well at trying to keep it together in the back."
It has been a long road to the top for Louisignau, who spent his first two collegiate seasons at the University of Virginia before transferring to UMBC after the 2008 campaign. He played in seven games as a freshman for the Cavaliers, starting all four postseason contests.
But the native of Wilmington, Del., felt something drawing him back to Baltimore, where he played club soccer for three years in high school.
"My time at UVA was great," he said. "I felt like when I went to UVA I was still a boy, still immature. Everything I went through, bad and good – it made me the person I am today. I have absolutely no regrets about it. But I missed Baltimore and I wanted to come back, and what better place than UMBC?"
The summer before he was to start at UMBC, however, Louisignau suffered a torn labrum and torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, injuries which required surgery and forced him to miss the entire season. Rookie Phil Saunders exceled in his absence, leading the Retrievers to their first-ever America East title game and posting six shutouts on the year.
"It was tough because I feel that I can always contribute, and to sit there on the sidelines and see my teammates go through the struggles and success without me, it was tough," Louisignau said. "But at the same time, it gave me a new perspective. I was able to look at the game from a different view. I was able to hear what the coaches were saying and just learn. And I was also able to teach some of my teammates because I could see what they weren't seeing. You never want to sit, but when you do sit, you've got to take the positive, and that's the approach I took."
Saunders retained his starting job at the beginning of 2010, but when the Retrievers built a 3-0 halftime lead over VMI in the season opener, Louisignau was given his first shot – which he promptly fumbled, allowing three second-half goals, and he didn't see another minute of action for five more games.
"I could have easily hid behind an excuse," he said. "Or I could just tell myself it's time to man up, get better or go home. You can be your best friend or you can be your worst enemy. I don't get wrapped up in all the little things. There are definitely goals that I would love to have back, but I can't change the past. All I can do is go out, have fun, give it my all and make sure I don't let in goals that I will regret."
The positive attitude paid off. The UMBC defense struggled after the opening weekend, allowing eight goals in three games, and when the Retrievers found themselves in a 2-0 halftime deficit at Mount St. Mary's on Sept. 18, Caringi, looking for a spark, inserted Louisignau for the second period. The junior recorded one save without allowing a goal as UMBC rallied for a 3-2 win, Louisignau's first in the black and gold.
Saunders played the full 90 minutes in the next game, a 2-1 loss to Fairleigh Dickinson, but when America East Conference play began on Oct. 2 against Binghamton, it was Louisignau standing between the pipes at opening kickoff. He made nine saves against the Bearcats and took a firm hold on the position, as he played every minute of the final 13 contests of the season.
Louisignau ended up ranking second in the America East in goals-against average (0.87), save percentage (.845) and saves per game (4.73), and his save percentage was 10th-best in the nation. His numbers were even better against conference foes, as he was tops with 5.57 saves per game and an .886 save percentage, all while playing in a new league for the first time. Opposing coaches took note, selecting him to the all-conference second team.
"Dan has had a lot of success in his career," Caringi said. "When he came here, he had a confidence about him because of the success that he's had. I think that carried over into his training. He was a big part of the reason we won last year."
A 1-0 shutout of Stony Brook in the regular-season finale clinched second place in the America East standings for the Retrievers, who went on to reach the league title game for the second year in a row. UMBC hosted New Hampshire, which boasted the best defense in the league but relied on its counterattack to generate offense.
The teams battled to a scoreless draw after 110 minutes, which meant the America East Championship would be decided on penalty kicks.
"The pressure is on the shooter," Louisignau said of the intensity of the situation. "Everyone expects the shooter to make, the goalie to miss. So my mind frame is, 'I'm going to save it, but if not, I'll get the next one.' As a goalie in that situation, you can't get down on yourself, you have to just think about the next one."
After both teams converted on their opening kicks, Louisignau made a diving save to his right to stop an attempt by UNH's Joe Corsello. He got up with an emphatic fist pump as his teammates and the standing room-only crowd erupted.
"His approach to the ball kind of gave it away," Louisignau said. "Some goalies guess, some can try to read them. I felt like I got a good read on him; he gave away my right side with his whole approach, so I just made sure I got a good jump on it, got my body behind it and just batted it wide. After that, I kind of blacked out."
UMBC ultimately converted on all five attempts, as America East Goalkeeper of the Year Colin O'Donnell, who led the league in goals-against average and save percentage, did not stop a single penalty kick, and the Retrievers celebrated their first-ever America East title.
With the championship, the Retrievers earned a date with Princeton, the 10th-ranked team in the country, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But Louisignau brought his A-game, recording a season-high 10 saves, as UMBC upset the Tigers, 2-1, and advanced to face William & Mary. The goalie stopped six shots against the Tribe, as the teams played to another scoreless draw, again forcing penalty kicks. This time, however, it was the other team doing the celebrating in the end, as the hosts prevailed, 4-3.
After experiencing the ups and downs of penalty kicks, Louisignau still believes that it is a fair way to decide a soccer match, especially in college, where student-athletes have class or homework to think about, as well.
"I like PKs, I just think they're very exciting," he said. "What some people don't take into consideration is our health. If we play five or six overtimes – a few of us had finals the next day, we also have to worry about school. You can make the argument (against penalty kicks) for a professional, but we're not at that point. As a college student, I believe that there should be PKs."
As his senior season approached, Louisignau was the undisputed starter in goal, despite a second shoulder surgery in the spring and two other keepers who were more than capable in Saunders – who was coming off winning a national championship with his club team, the Baltimore Bays – and senior Miguel Calderón.
"We have three great keepers," Caringi said. "Obviously Dan had a great year last year, but there easily could have been a competition. The great thing about our goalkeeping, and it's so unique, is those three train hard together; they compete against one another every day, and then at the end of the day, they support whoever's in goal. It's very rare nowadays."
Louisignau echoed his coach's sentiments. "When I do something wrong, when I come to them for advice, they're honest with me," he said. "There's never been an issue between us three. We all have great respect for each other, and our friendship is pretty tight. You wouldn't expect that we all play the same position considering how competitive we all are, but in the end, you can honestly say that we are teammates and we are friends."
The coaches recognized Louisignau's tremendous confidence and natural leadership skills and named him a team co-captain for the 2011 season.
"At that position, you have to be a leader, and Dan has done a nice job of that," Caringi said. "He's very vocal in there, he's very confident, and I think that all projects over to the team. I think that started the year he came in and had to sit out, because he has leadership tendencies. When I named the captains, I looked at Dan as a leader on the team and someone who I think a lot of players respect both on and off the field."
Louisignau and the Retrievers began the season with a bang, shutting out the first three opponents of the year and also posting a 450-minute scoreless streak at the start of conference play, blanking teams like preseason favorite Boston University on the road and 2010 runner-up New Hampshire on national television.
Despite the uncharacteristic hiccups in the final three games, Louisignau believes the sky is the limit for the Retrievers in 2011 and doesn't rule out a repeat.
"We're a seasoned team; a lot of our players are experienced," he said. "Our defense is strong. We realize we have to be focused for 90 minutes, we have to be 100 percent into the game. Last year, if the defense took off five minutes, we were able to get away with it because of Levi (Houapeu, America East Striker of the Year). That's not the case anymore. But we're still able to do well because we realize we have to play defense for 90 minutes."
While he may be the backbone of that defense, Louisignau does still long for his goal-scoring days of rec soccer. He even had an assist against Vermont last season, as his bounding goal kick found Houapeu's feet and led to the first goal in UMBC's 3-1 win.
"I tell Coach all the time to put me up top," he deadpanned. "I don't know why he won't listen."