For DASC 10 year anniversary we'll be sharing 10 stories to remember what pillars built DASC, the memories from before the unification, during and after merging the Sioux Falls soccer entities.
Second in our 10 for 10 Series we look back with fondness upon the life and legacy of Daniel Ohayon. Below is an abridged version of the article written about Daniel Ohayon in September of 2015, just short of two months before he passed away. Coach Ohayon will continue to live on in the community of Sioux Falls with the lasting legacy of coaches and players he worked with, worked for and taught the beautiful game. In addition to his presence through coaches and players, every spring DASC host the Daniel Ohayon Invitational Tournament which brings hundreds of players and teams from across the midwest to Sioux Falls.
Sixty-four-year-old Ohayon, who played professionally in France and has been a fixture on the Sioux Falls soccer scene for more than two decades, sits in his office and ponders the dreary prospect of not taking the field. His life has always been about soccer. Now he is counting on the game to keep him alive.
Four years ago, the Dakota Alliance associate coordinator was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that is largely resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. Efforts to remove a tumor from his wrist were unsuccessful, and last November doctors informed Ohayon that the disease has spread to his lungs, meaning he is terminally ill.
He is part of a clinical trial in Denver to combat the slow-moving but aggressive cancer, but it could take him at any time, so there’s no time to waste.
“Daniel knows he’s not going to beat this, but he’s not going quietly into that good night,” says his wife, Lynda O’Connor, a local psychologist. “He is (accepting treatment) because he’s fighting for his life.
He wants to stay as long as he can.”
Learning the game
Born in Morocco but moved with his family to France at a young age, finding within that country a love for soccer that came to mirror his own.
“It was a big part of the culture,” says Ohayon, who took up the sport at age 5 and quickly settled on the position of goalkeeper. “It was a wonderful place to grow up and learn the game, which I took very seriously as I grew older.” He signed an apprenticeship contract at age 16 with the newly formed Paris St. Germain club, putting his skills on display and earning a professional stint from 1970-71. Ohayon was also tapped for the under-21 French national team, playing international matches against countries such as Russia and Belgium, an experience he calls one of the highlights of his life.
Those idyllic moments were soon followed by near-tragedy, when Ohayon broke his back while playing keeper during a match in Paris. He suffered shattered vertebrae after colliding with an opposing striker while defending his goal. “I went for the ball on a breakaway and the attacking player couldn’t stop in time,” he says. “His knees crashed into my lower back.” Ohayon escaped full paralysis but was immobilized for several months and had to be “re-educated” on how to walk when he came out of traction. When he recovered, life changes continued.
While searching through trade magazines for job opportunities, Ohayon stumbled upon an advertisement for a coaching director at a place called Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The club was called Dakota Gold. “To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know there was a South Dakota,” he says. “But I applied for the job, and they were interested. We were looking for each other at just the right time.” In 1994, Sioux Falls was a fast-growing city with a burgeoning love affair with soccer. But rising participation numbers didn't always correspond with success on the regional scene.
The Dakota Gold Soccer Club, formed with the intention of pushing the competitive pace, was relying almost exclusively on parent coaches whose grasp of skill development and strategy was limited. "We needed someone with strengths that coaches around here didn't have," says Rex Rolfing, who served on the Dakota Gold board of directors. "We needed a professional to bring things up a notch."
"We didn't really know what to think of him," recalls Becky (Heiberger) McCabe, who went on to play Division I soccer at Creighton and later coached at South Dakota and St. Cloud State. "We looked at this big guy with a French accent who we could barely understand and thought, 'Who is this guy?' As time went on, though, it all started to make sense." Once Ohayon settled into his role of supervising coaches and doing skill training with the separate teams, his impact was quickly felt. "His strategic approach took hold," says Dave Husby, who coached the Dakota Gold Dynasty girls powerhouse and also served on the club's board. "Instead of just run and gun, we had proper spacing and offensive and defensive formations in addition to improved technique. Once the games started, though, Daniel left it to the coaches, and for that I was grateful."
Years later Ohayon resigned from Dakota Gold to coach the Sioux Falls SpitFire, a semipro team, and run a store called Soccer World. But working with kids was his mission, and he found a new role as tournament director and coach after Dakota Gold merged with the Sioux Falls Soccer Association to form Dakota Alliance in 2009.
“There was always a bigger picture for him,” says Dakota Alliance director Frank Gurnick, who faced off against Ohayon during a previous stint in Des Moines. “He knows that we use this game of soccer to teach life lessons as well. Ultimately he’s not developing professional players but future lawyers, accountants, moms and dads. If you take that purpose away from him, what does he have left?”
Legacy lives on
When doctors told Ohayon last year that the cancer had metastasized and spread to his lungs, he knew what it meant in soccer terms. Like a team trailing in stoppage time, he is scrambling to be productive while keeping an eye on the referee. “That news brought me to my knees, because I felt I was a very healthy person,” he says. “The hardest thing that really tore me apart was that the cancer was terminal and that it had grown. It has not receded. It has not slowed down.”
Argus Leader Media city columnist Stu Whitney can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter @stuwhitney