Profile: Pioneer’s Dan McDonough has become a presence on and off the pitch

Dan McDonough says one of the many things that attracted him to soccer was the freedom of the game and how it forces you to figure things out on your own. He’s been doing a pretty good job figuring things out since he first kicked a soccer ball back before kindergarten.

Now a junior, the Pioneer center-defensive midfielder, was one of the team’s leaders and top players on a team loaded with leaders and top players.

Before we go back to the beginning or head to the end, let’s jump in in the middle for a defining moment in McDonough’s Pioneer career. It was his sophomore year playing against city-rival Skyline.

“One memory that really stands out is when Coach (Jon) Sundermann called my name to go into our rivalry game at Skyline,” McDonough recalls. “We were standing at the half line and we were losing 1-0 with probably 20 minutes left. He said to me, ‘just go be a presence, be a presence out there.’”

He was quite the presence, scoring the game-tying goal for the Pioneers.

“It’s now my favorite coach’s quote from Jon Sundermann,” he says.

That sophomore season, McDonough earned the team’s Most Improved award – not bad for a player who earlier in that season contemplated quitting the team.

After playing JV as a freshman, McDonough moved up to varsity his sophomore season and found the next level to be quite challenging. “It was a very hard adjustment, coming from starting on the JV team, to now being probably the worst on varsity,” he said. “I remember the first practice I came to. It was the worst practice of my life. I felt like I was miles behind the rest of the boys. I sat on the bench and didn’t play any minutes the first four games of the season. I nearly asked to drop down to JV because I wasn’t getting any playing time. Luckily, I didn’t quit.”

You can say, he figured things out.

McDonough’s soccer career kicked off in a local pee wee league and then for his school teams. He went to the 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 says. “Once the whistle blew there was no set way or set play to follow, it was just trying 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.”

McDonough currently plays club soccer for Michigan Wolves ECNL 03. He previously played one year at Michigan Tigers 03 with many of the same players on the Pioneer team. He also played six years with MPSA Crush.

While club soccer is against elite competition, playing for your high school is something special. And the Pioneers had a special team in 2020.

“We fought hard as a team all the way to the end and I believe that is what this team was about,” says McDonough. “We never gave up even as time was running out. We always tried to stay calm and keep playing the game that we knew how to. I know I will be using the loss (to Saline) to get better and prepare for next year, and hope my fellow teammates will use it as motivation to get better so we can be great next year.”

McDonough will bring with him not only motivation, but some valuable lessons learned.

“I learned some valuable lessons from one of my fellow captains and teammate, James Cameron,” he says. “I have always looked up to James, ever since I came to the program and never thought I would be captaining a team with him. From him I have learned a lot about being a leader and being vocal, as well as how to be humble and kind.”

The son of Tom McDonough and Lisa Hirsch, Dan has been kicking around a 3.88 GPA in the classroom. He also is already looking forward to next season. Despite losing a large senior class, he sees plenty of talent returning in purple and white.

“We still have a core group of players my age who played on the team this year,” he says. “We will also have a returning goalkeeper and hopefully a couple more players my age from this year’s JV team. With that we will also be adding a great class of 2023’s to the team who will be able to make up for what we are losing this year. I am hoping that next season we can be as good or even better than this year.”

McDonough says his dream is to play professional soccer someday.

“I knew from the age of 8 that I wanted to play in college and in eighth grade my mindset changed to not just college but pro,” he says. “I hope that through great coaching and hard work I can achieve these aspirations.”

If there is a way, he’ll figure it out.