Back from the brink: Impact defender Daniel Lovitz sticks with soccer and thrives in Montreal
Lovitz nearly gave up on his pro soccer career — then the Impact offered him an opportunity
Daniel Lovitz almost gave it all up in December of 2016.
Fresh off of losing the MLS Cup final to Seattle, Toronto FC — the team that drafted him three years earlier — decided he wasn't part of their plans anymore.
He was cut loose and left with no clear path forward.
"It was brutal. It was really tough. I went from being ecstatic to just be a pro at Toronto to then, in my third year, being pretty miserable," Lovitz recalls.
A tryout with the Vancouver Whitecaps didn't lead to a job. Frustrated, Lovitz started looking into returning to school to get his master's degree.
But just as he was seriously considering moving on from professional soccer, the Montreal Impact came knocking and offered his career a lifeline.
At the time, few could have predicted that 28 months later, Lovitz would have a defender of the year award on his trophy shelf, a new contract and eyes on representing the U.S. at the next FIFA World Cup.
"It was a pretty harrowing experience. It was not a fun time for me at all, but to come out on the other side has made everything all the better," Lovitz said.
Carving out his own path
Lovitz's love affair with soccer started 23 years ago, when he was only four.
Like many Americans of his generation, he took up the game in the wake of the excitement stemming out of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, hosted by the United States.
He didn't come from a soccer family, but he did have a natural ability to play the game — a fact he first recognized when he was playing with a neighbour who was eight years older.
"At an early age, I figured out that I was better than him at soccer, and that was pretty cool because he would beat me at everything else," Lovitz said.
Lovitz was also an elite lacrosse player and enjoyed playing baseball, but soccer was always his top passion.
He went on to play at Elon University for the Phoenix, a Division 1 NCAA program, before being drafted into the MLS by Toronto in the second round of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, 24th overall.
But despite making it to the pros, he had never garnered any attention from U.S. Soccer.
Growing up, he was never asked to play youth soccer with national program, nor was he selected to the regional all-star teams, which serve as a kind of showcase for potential national players.
He didn't think he was even on the national team radar until his phone unexpectedly rang in January.
Lovitz played his first game for his country, a friendly match against Panama, in January.
"It was amazing. So surreal, so humbling, so exciting."
He is also the first player from the Montreal Impact to play for the United States. He says he hopes to continue to be part of the team as they begin qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
Ready to deliver for Impact fans
While being part of the national team is a nice bonus for Lovitz, his priority is still the team that gave him his big break.
The Impact missed the playoffs in his first two seasons with the club. This year, he's determined to change that.
"This year is different. We're starting in a good place. We're not fighting from behind in any way."
It is also the second year with coach Rémi Garde at the helm. In Garde's first year, Lovitz's future with Montreal, despite the fact that he was coming off an award-winning season, was unclear.
After proving himself to the new coach, he's earned a new contract and now knows he's here to stay.
"You can be who you are here [under Rémi Garde]. There are no limitations and I think that shows in how we play," Lovitz said.
The Impact started this season with six road games, so getting to finally play a game at home is something Lovitz says he and his teammates are genuinely looking forward to.
Also, knowing how close he was to retiring only two years ago has given him an increased appreciation for how special the opening home game of a season is.
"Last year, we weren't able to finish the season at home. We were at New England and we lost. That was pretty tough," Lovitz said.
"The first thing you're thinking about is, 'When are we going to get back home next year?'"
The answer is this Saturday, when Lovitz and the Impact host the Columbus Crew at Saputo Stadium. Game time is 1 p.m.