After a stellar 2017 campaign with Columbus Crew SC, Zack Steffen has leapt into the goalkeeper converasation for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Fresh off of his first career start with the senior MNT- a 1-0 shutout win over Paraguay—here are five things to know about the young ‘keeper on the rise.
A native of Downington, Pa., Steffen played youth soccer with Philadelphia Union youth affiliate FC Delco and spent time with the Union’s academy during its early seasons. In 2011-12, he was named U.S. Soccer Development Academy Eastern Conference Player of the Year. After graduation from Downington West High School, he headed south for college at the University of Maryland.
The ‘keeper made an instant impact for the Terrapins, playing every minute in goal and leading UMD to the NCAA Final. Steffen’s freshman campaign marked the Terps’ most successful NCAA Championship run since 2008. He took home NCAA Championship Most Valuable Defensive Player for his postseason efforts.
Steffen continued to anchor the net for Maryland his sophomore season, once again logging every minute in net for the team. In the Terrapins’ first season in the Big Ten, he guided the squad to the conference tournament title game, earning Most Valuable Defensive Player honors en route. Over the course of his two collegiate seasons, Steffen tallied 17 clean sheets.
YOUTH NATIONAL TEAMS
After regular call-ups to the U-18 MNT, Steffen made the U-20 MNT squad for the CONCACAF Championship and ensuing 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey as one of the team’s youngest players. In both tournaments, Steffen served as the third ‘keeper and gained valuable international experience as a backup to Cody Cropper and Kendall McIntosh.
Steffen’s first international breakout came in the next U-20 World Cup cycle. He and midfielder Kellyn Acosta returned from the 2013 side to help lead the team in New Zealand. After he recorded a clean sheet in a 1-0 Round of 16 victory over Colombia, Steffen locked down the U.S. net in a marathon quarterfinal against Serbia. He kept Orlovi scoreless for 120 minutes and held strong through nine rounds of penalty kicks. The USA would fall 6-5 to the eventual champions, but the team earned its best finish at the tournament since 2007.
STARTING HIS PROFESSIONAL CAREER
In December 2014, Steffen decided to forego his final two seasons at Maryland and sign a professional contract with Bundesliga-side SC Freiburg. While he struggled to find a rhythm in Germany, he earned his first senior MNT call-up in May 2016 for a pre-Copa America Centenario camp in Puerto Rico. A few months later, he decided to return stateside with a transfer to Columbus Crew SC midway through the M.L.S. season.
While Steffen spent most of the 2016 campaign on loan with the USL’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds, he entered 2017 locked into a preseason battle against veteran Brad Stuver to be the Crew’s No. 1 ‘keeper. Despite some early struggles, Steffen came into his own over the course of the season, as he played every league minute for Crew SC and helped lead the team to the playoffs.
2017 M.L.S. CUP PLAYOFFS
While Steffen proved to be one of the league’s top goalkeepers over the course of the regular season, his performance in the 2017 M.L.S. Cup Playoffs announced his presence as one of the USA’s most-exciting prospects in the net.
The Crew entered the postseason as the Eastern Conference’s No. 5 seed to set up a tough draw on the road at expansion upstart Atlanta United FC. Atlanta broke the league’s single-game attendance record earlier in the season, and its first-ever playoff game drew a postseason-record crowd of 67,221. Atlanta’s raucous atmosphere fueled an attack that stood among the most dangerous in the league.
In interviews after the game, Steffen said that he hoped to silence the crowd. That’s exactly what he did at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Steffen made eight saves over 120 minutes to hold Atlanta scoreless.
After extra time, he secured the victory for Columbus in penalty kicks, stopping Atlanta’s first two attempts, as well as watching its fourth and final kick go off the post, all leading to the side’s 3-1 shootout win.
In the conference semifinals, the Crew upset No. 2 seed New York City FC by a 4-3 aggregate, setting up a tie with Supporters’ Shield winner Toronto FC in Eastern Conference Final. Steffen held the Reds scoreless in the opening leg at home and stopped a penalty kick in the road second leg to push Toronto to the brink. A 60th-minute goal from Jozy Altidoe ended the Crew’s remarkable run, but Steffen starred in their unexpected postseason success.
HERE AND NOW
After his standout 2017, Steffen was one of four goalkeepers called to the MNT’s annual January Camp earlier this year, his first National Team invite since Puerto Rico. January also provided his first cap, taking over for Bill Hamid in the second half of a scoreless draw against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Jan. 28.
After another strong start to the M.L.S. season, Steffen earned a consecutive call-up to the MNT’s March camp in Cary, N.C. He earned his first start for the USA against Paraguay on March 27, making three saves to keep his first clean sheet in a 1-0 victory against La Albiroja.