Academy star Steffen latest out of Union production line

Philadelphia Union U-17s celebrate Academy Cup title

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

With the clock about to strike midnight on 2012, many soccer players can look back and be proud of what they accomplished in the past year, and Zack Steffen is no exception.

Since the start of 2012, the Philadelphia Union academy goalkeeper was called up to five US U-18 national team camps, made his US U-20 debut and led the Union’s U-17 academy team to the Generation adidas Cup championship (pictured above, right), stopping two penalty kicks in the shootout of the title game vs. Toronto FC.

Now the question is, what lies ahead for one of the Union’s most prized Homegrown players?

“We’re really happy with his progress,” Union manager John Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com. “We stay in pretty good contact with the national team, and he’s done well when he’s gone to the national teams.

“It should be noted that [Union assistant coach] Rob Vartughian trains him and that’s unique to our setup in that our first team coaches work with academy players,” Hackworth added. “But I think that is something that’s not only unique but real important for player development, especially if we’re going to be a club where we want to bring players out of our academy program into the first team. Zack Steffen is a good example of that and hopefully there’s potential for him to one day play for the first team.”

The Union have already signed three Homegrown players in Zach Pfeffer, Jimmy McLaughlin and Cristhian Hernandez. Steffen would definitely like to be the fourth, but the teenager said he’s more focused right now on continuing to develop with the US national team and beginning to play for the University of Maryland, where he will enroll next fall.

READ: Pfeffer not intimidated by upcoming loan move to Europe

“I just want to go to college first and see what leads from there,” said Steffen, a standout for local club powerhouse FC Delco, as well as Downingtown West High School. “But it would be pretty sweet to play for the Union just because it’s your hometown and Philadelphia is close and all the fans love the team.”

Luckily for Steffen, the path from Maryland to the Union has already been well traveled. Fellow goalkeepers Chris Seitz and Zac MacMath both played for the Terps before getting drafted by the Union, and Vartughian coached at Maryland before joining the Union’s technical staff.

Steffen is eager to join the Maryland soccer family and see the inner workings of a program that consistently ranks as one of the nation’s best.

“I’m very excited,” Steffen said. “I love the coaching, the campus is awesome, the fields are awesome and the student section is fantastic. It’s exciting to go to a school where soccer is pretty much their No. 1 sport.”

And after getting groomed at such a great soccer school, perhaps then he will be ready to join the Union as a Homegrown signing.

“Goalkeepers develop much later than field players do anyway, so there’s no rush,” Hackworth said. “As long as he comes back and is going to train with the first team in the offseason and the summers, that’s the most important thing.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.