ELON, N.C. – Former Elon University men’s soccer standouts Clint Irwin ’11 and Daniel Lovitz ’13 will play for the Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup Final on Saturday, Dec. 10, when the duo and their Toronto FC club hosts the Seattle Sounders. The match will begin at 8 p.m. (ET) on FOX. Eastern Conference Champion Toronto FC claimed a 5-2 victory over the Montreal Impact on Nov. 30 to advance to the title match.
“I am delighted for Clint and Danny to have this opportunity on Saturday,” said Elon head coach Chris Little. “Both guys helped shape the culture of our program and we couldn’t be happier to see them compete on a national stage this weekend.”
Irwin and Lovitz will be the first known former Elon student-athletes to compete for a championship in any of the major American professional sports. The achievement for both players and their club has brought a level of excitement and pride from their former Elon teammates and coaches.
“I am absolutely thrilled for Danny and Clint, as is the whole alumni base,” said Elon assistant men’s soccer coach Brad Franks, who was teammates with both Irwin and Lovitz in 2010. “They worked through so much to get to where they are, Danny with his knee injury throughout the draft and preseason and Clint’s unlikely path through the Canadian men’s league and USL. It speaks volumes to their character which laid the groundwork for our current team’s success.”
Both Irwin and Lovitz were two of many individuals that helped shape the Elon men’s soccer program to achieve national success under former head coach Darren Powell. Under Powell’s tutelage, Irwin and Lovitz helped the Phoenix win four conference championships and achieve three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament.
“I think it’s incredible for both of them,” said Powell, who is currently the head coach for San Antonio FC of the USL. “Obviously, you take extreme pride in seeing the guys work every single day, year after year to try to achieve this goal and have this moment. Personally, it fills me with a lot of pride and I’m extremely happy to see these two be successful because I know how hard they worked, the character that they have and they were good leaders during their time at Elon. So to see them be successful, I’m just beaming with pride for the players that they played with, the alumni and Elon University as a whole.”
After a stellar playing career with the Phoenix in which he earned all-conference honors in each of his four seasons, was a finalist for the 2010 Lowe’s Senior Class Award and set a then school-record with 22 career shutouts, Irwin began his professional career in the non-sanctioned Canadian Soccer League with Capital City FC of Ottawa. He also had stints with the Charlotte Eagles of the USL PRO and was on trial run with the New England Revolution.
“When you talk about Clint Irwin, you talk about perseverance,” said Powell. “He went through some tough times during his early days as a professional. Those experiences he had, he shared them with me and I have shared them with players. He has a great belief in himself and kept pushing which is a great characteristic to have and then he got his big break with Colorado in the MLS.”
In 2013, Irwin would earn a preseason trial invite with the Colorado Rapids before earning a professional contract with the club. Shortly after the start of the 2013 season, Irwin would become the starting keeper for the Rapids and quickly established himself as one of the best young goalkeepers of the league, posting 10 shutouts during his first season and becoming only the third keeper in MLS history to record five shutouts in his first 10 career starts. He also helped aid the Rapids to an appearance in the MLS Cup playoffs.
“What many people do not know about Colorado prior to his big break was that during the preseason the Rapids brought in five goalkeepers for one last spot,” added Powell. “He had to beat out the competition day in and day out to be able to earn the opportunity that he later received. So that perseverance that I mentioned before, Clint certainly exemplifies that attitude.”
With Colorado, Irwin made a combined 92 appearances with a 30-39-23 record and registered 25 clean sheets across MLS league play, MLS Cup playoffs and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. He was named a MLS All-Star in 2015 and was tabbed as the Rapids’ Fan Favorite in 2013 and 2015.
Prior to the 2016 campaign, Irwin was traded to Toronto FC from the Rapids to make way for USMNT keeper Tim Howard. He would rejoin his former Phoenix teammate Lovitz, who had been with the club since being drafted 24th overall in the MLS SuperDraft, the highest draft pick ever for an Elon player in the SuperDraft.
In his first 15 games with his new club, Irwin posted six clean sheets. After suffering an injury during the season that kept him out for two and a half months, Irwin has returned to start every match during TFC’s playoff run, recording two shutouts.
Lovitz concluded his Elon career in 2013 after helping the maroon and gold advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history during his senior year. He was also selected as the Southern Conference Player of the Year that season and helped Elon to its third straight SoCon tournament championship. He would earn an invite to the 2014 MLS Player Combine, but did not compete due to injury. Still, he became the first Phoenix player drafted in the SuperDraft since 2010.
“Danny was not necessarily a highly recruited player when he came to Elon,” said Powell. “But, from day one you saw a special quality with his competitiveness, his desire to succeed and his overall ability.
After starting his professional career with Toronto’s USL Pro Pro Club affiliate, Wilmington Hammerheads FC, Lovitz was called back to the main squad and played in 18 games with five starts and a pair of assists in 2014. Injuries have limited Lovitz’s time on the pitch the last two seasons and throughout the recent playoff run, but he has still made an impact on the squad according to Powell.
“He’s a guy that never stops working,” said Powell. “So regardless if Danny is playing on Saturday night, I’m sure he’s bringing a high level during training. Every time he’s come on and played in games, he’s been very reliable for Toronto.”
“It is massive for Elon University and our men’s soccer program to have two former student-athletes competing at the highest level in their sport,” Little said. “Clint was instrumental in us winning our first championship in 2008 and Danny would later help us win three more. Both guys have played an integral part of what the program was and still is today. To have two players that actually played together at Elon University compete for a professional championship on national TV is incredible. I’m not sure how often that happens.”
As Irwin and Lovitz prepare for the MLS Cup on Saturday night, both will do so knowing they will have a large support and following from the Elon community and their former classmates across the world.
“All the alumni are all wishing Clint and Danny all the best,” said Franks. “I know a lot of schedules have already been changed to make sure people can watch the game, wherever they are. There are a lot of people on this campus who are very proud of them.”