Des McAleenan and Dan Gaspar. (Photo courtesy of Dan Gaspar)

Dan Gaspar, a world-renowned goalkeeper coach, knew and worked with former MetroStars/Red Bulls goalkeeper coach Des McAleenan for many years. McAleenan passed away in his native Dublin, Ireland last week. He was 53.

By Dan Gaspar
Special to FrontRowSoccer.com

On February 26, I received a text at 1:51 p.m. ET: “Hey Dan, don’t know if you heard yet, Desi passed away.”

I dropped my phone, screamed and yelled as loud as I could, “NO! NO! NO!”

Since his passing, it has been overwhelming how many people have called, texted or sent me an email expressing their sadness and shock.

Des, I am truly heartbroken. You were like a son to me. The world will be less radiant, less vibrant, less colorful, and frankly, it will be a little more boring without you. The day you died, so did a part of me.

Des was crucial in the early stages of Star Goalkeeper Academy evolution. He was one of the few full time employees SGA has ever had. He was the heart and soul of SGA. His passion and intensity were incomparable. SGA was blessed when after many years he returned to SGA summer camp to direct the SGA World Champions program in 2017. He had incredible pride in his trade and the SGA family will miss him dearly.

I remember when Octavio Zambrano from the MLS NY/NJ MetroStars was looking for a goalkeeper coach. I recommended Des, and Octavio gave us the opportunity to come down and have Des run a session at the Meadowlands. All it took was 10 minutes of Des hitting laser after laser into the top corners for Octavio to be convinced that Des was his guy. Left foot, right foot… didn’t matter. He struck the ball with such venom and accuracy that it almost made you wonder why he wasn’t a #9. But he wasn’t a striker; he was a goalkeeper, and a student of the art of goalkeeping.

He studied goalkeeping like Picasso studied painting. Des worked for the Red Bulls for nine seasons with outstanding goalkeepers. This wonderful opportunity launched his incredible professional career at the highest levels. Des worked with top class coaches like Tab Ramos with the U.S. national youth teams, Omid Namazi in Iran and more recently with Carlos Queiroz with the Colombia national team.

Des was grateful for the amazing adventures as he was living his dream.

To Des, it didn’t matter if he was training a world-class professional, or a 10-year-old new to the sport. He worked with the same passion and enthusiasm because it didn’t matter; goalkeeping was his passion and his art, and coaching was his medium. He influenced thousands of goalkeepers and coaches at all levels and touched the lives of so many.

Desi was a raconteur, par excellence. In all my years, I’ve yet to see anyone hold court like he could. His tales, with his brogue still as thick as the day he landed on these shores, could charm a viper. He could sing an old Irish rebel song one minute, and quote Dylan Thomas the next, yet there was always a deep and dark side to this complicated man. He could be whimsical, argumentative, and deeply, deeply philosophical.

What was most troubling were the bouts of depression that he battled. Des occasionally spoke of them in the interviews that he gave. I did my best to offer love and assistance during these troubled times. Like me, there might be someone who feel they could have done something differently to heal this troubled soul. But the sad and obvious truth is that he suffered from an insidious and crippling disease.

I saw in Des a prodigious talent and did my best to present him opportunities. I know in his special way that he appreciated the start that I gave him at Star Goalkeeper Academy, and I always did my utmost to open doors for him. As with many father and son relationships, egos and personalities sometimes are obstacles that get in the way. But with love and respect you ultimately know that you will be there for each other in times of need. Recently we fell out of touch; perhaps that was my fault. I will regret that until the day I die and may Desi and the Lord forgive me.

SGA family loves you and we mourn your lost.

I’ll miss our annual Christmas lunches at Portuguese restaurants. I’ll miss the red-wine stains on your perfectly white teeth. I’ll miss how you could make me laugh so hard that my belly would ache. I’ll miss the camaraderie, and the brotherhood. Most of all, I’ll miss the bonds of love that we shared. I will always love you and will miss you forever. I hope that you have found the peace that was so elusive here on Earth. Someday we will be together again.

Star Goalkeeper Academy will recognize Des McAleenan with an annual full residential scholarship in his honor to a worthy recipient and he will be remembering him at SGA with a dedicated training session in his name. I want to make sure that future SGA keepers know of Des’s impact on SGA and the goalkeeper world. In addition, SGA will make a financial donation to an organization that focuses on mental illness.

If you are affected by any part of this story, or if you are experiencing problems and wish to seek help the following helplines may be of use:

National Mental Health Services: 1-800-662-4357
National Hope line Network: 1-800-784-2433