On Tuesday, Dec. 18, U.S. Men's National Team and Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen was named the 2018 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year, becoming just the second player in the award’s 35 year history to earn the honor in his debut year with the senior team.
The award caps a year in which Steffen tied an MNT record for appearances by a goalkeeper in their inaugural campaign, earned his first MLS All-Star selection, won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and was named to the MLS Best XI team. Last week, Steffen was transferred to defending Premier League champions Manchester City, which he will join during the summer window in July 2019.
In his own words, Steffen describes the importance of family, the thrills of the National Team experience and the wild ride in Columbus this year, and how it all adds up to him being ready to take the next steps …
My family is a big part of my life. I was 19 when I went to Germany, and it was tough not having them around. It just didn’t feel right. So when I joined the Columbus Crew, it felt like home right away. Over the last two years, they’ve made it to just about every home game, and that’s exactly how I wanted it to be – to have a career that I could share with my family and have them next to me while I began this ride.
One of the best life lessons my parents instilled in me is that there will always be ups and downs…both in life, and in soccer. But you have to learn from them, and when you’re going through them, you have to stay humble and stay grounded - no matter what.
And that’s the thing about me – when there are downs, I get over those quickly. You have to as a goalkeeper. You keep playing and you make the next play. I believe that mentality has helped me have some success early on, which has humbly led to a few accolades this year. What an honor it’s been to receive these.
Coming into this year I wanted to build off 2017. I gained a lot of confidence in my first full year in MLS, having a good season with the Crew. I wanted to come in and not take a step back, to start playing well right off the bat, and to work and grow from there.
I was honored to be called in to the Men’s National Team’s January Camp. We were playing Bosnia and Herzegovina, and even though the plan was for me to come on at halftime, it seemed to happen too fast. I had to warm up in 12 minutes and at the same time I was telling myself to go out there, play my game and enjoy it. I was nervous. My heart was racing, but I was about to make my debut for the national team, so I was also really excited. And fortunately for us, we were playing well so I did not have much to do.
Our season with the Crew began not long after. Gregg Berhalter and the coaching staff did an excellent job of keeping us focused amid the uncertainty on the team’s future in Columbus. They kept us updated on what was going on with ownership and all that, but at the same time they did a really good job of reminding us that we couldn't control any of it and that our job was to put quality out on the field, work hard every day, and if we did that good things would come.
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So that was my focus during the season – to enjoy it, to work hard, to learn, to push myself and try to stay consistent. I wanted to become a leader for the team on and off the field and try to improve my game in each area that I could.
That was also my mindset with the National Team. We knew it was a transitional era for us, but Dave Sarachan and the coaches did a great job incorporating youth and starting this process for us. A lot of us “younger guys” got time and played against quality opponents, whereas we might not have gotten the same opportunities in another World Cup year. The biggest thing we can take away was our performances and seeing the gap there is - how comfortable some of those teams were on the ball, knowing what to do with the ball and when, and learning from all of our experiences.
And personally, that game against France just before the World Cup gave me the most confidence with the national team, knowing that I could play at that level.