By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
For athletes, the call each day to go out onto the field develops their love of the sport and competition. That love is a yearning always present in their system. Players become coaches once they leave the game, and for some players, they may leave the game but the love tugs at them to return.
The itch to get back onto the soccer pitch is what drew Salisbury men’s soccer senior goalkeeper Daniel Brennan to the team. His love for soccer has guided him from Edwardsville, Illinois, a northeast-suburb of St. Louis, to Louisville, Kentucky and then on to Salisbury.
The six-foot goalkeeper began his career in his hometown at Edwardsville High School, where he was a four-year starter. During his high school career, Brennan led his team to multiple appearances in the state playoffs. He claimed all-state honors in both his junior and senior years alongside tallying over 30 shutouts and a goals-against-average under 1.00 for his career.
Statistics like these drew in top schools like the University of Louisville to recruit him. The next stop on the journey for Brennan was over 260 miles out to the Kentucky city upon his acceptance to join the 2012 class.
“That first year, it was just figuring out my weaknesses, what I needed to be better at. They had a great staff there that was able to teach me a lot. Not necessarily about goalkeeping, but the game of soccer as well,” Brennan said, who redshirted his first year at the Division I university.
Brennan spent three years at Louisville, where injuries shadowed him following the initial redshirt year. His first starts came in his third year there in 2014, when he started to shift his focus more toward his education. A change was needed for the goalkeeper so that he could get his body working again and also to get his mind right. His first priority became to finish his degree.
“At that time, I really didn’t want to focus on soccer, it was a big part of my life and it had been for quite some time, but I felt like I needed to focus on other things, figure out what kind of path I wanted for the rest of my life,” Brennan said.
The East Coast came to mind for Brennan when he was contemplating where to figure out the rest of his career. The senior had seen much of the nation after living in the Midwest and then travelling to areas on the West Coast, and so the East Coast intrigued him as a new place to explore. At the end of the day, it was the academics that drew Brennan to Salisbury University, not soccer.
“I didn’t come to Salisbury to play soccer. I came to finish school. It was something where I had surgery last September, and then February I got the itch [to play] again,” the SU goalkeeper said. “Really, it was just a chance. I had maybe been a week out of surgery. I was hobbling around on crutches and sat down in TETC. There was a soccer player sitting across from me wearing a shirt for ‘SU Soccer,’ and we started talking,” he continued.
From there, the lucky encounter with a Salisbury men’s soccer player led to a conversation with head coach Alex Hargrove, who was approached by the player that met Brennan.
“I knew that we were going to need some help [at goalkeeper] in this 2016 season. So, if we have someone on campus already with that experience, it was a no-brainer to reach out and see if there was interest in training with us in the spring,” Hargrove said.
After that, the rest is history; Brennan came out for the team and made it. Now, he finds himself as a goalkeeper in a Division III soccer program over 900 miles from his native state of Illinois on the third stop of his career.
Such a long journey across the eastern side of the country has left Brennan with plenty to reflect on, especially when contrasting his time on both a Division I program and the Division III team that he is with here at Salisbury.
At Louisville, the goalkeeper was used to a culture that involved exceeding everyone’s expectations. Hefty goals such as winning a national championship were always on the board.
“That created an environment where guys were constantly getting on each other, constantly pushing each other to make the right pass,” Brennan said.
Something he’s been able to carry over from his previous experience is his ability to keep pushing his teammates as far as they can go.
For Hargrove, the best qualities he sees Brennan bringing to his Division III program are skills he learned throughout his career, including at Division I in Louisville.
“Within that deeper understanding of the game, his ability to communicate and organize the ten players in front of him goes a long way towards keeping his hands pretty inactive throughout the match,” Hargrove said. “Every keeper has got their ability to keep the ball out of the net. I’d say Daniel’s strongest [ability] is to organize the men in front of him so the ball isn’t even making it there.”
After putting academics first on his way to Salisbury, Brennan now takes on another responsibility for Hargrove: tutoring the up-and-coming freshman goalkeeper Samuel Roy.
“For me and [senior goalkeeper Robert Fiackos,] that’s the biggest thing. We’re seniors so we’re going to be playing for most of the games this year, but once we leave, Sam’s going to be the eldest goalkeeper. For us, it’s teaching him the qualities that coach wants in a goalkeeper,” Brennan said.
Roy will surely learn a lot from the two, especially with the journey Brennan has been on. Now he settles down to finish his academic and athletic careers at Salisbury.
The calling Brennan felt to return to the game he loved has changed both Salisbury men’s soccer and his own personal character for the better.