CHESTER, Pa. – Zack Steffen sure looks right at home at PPL Park.
On Friday night, in the stadium where he might one day play for the Philadelphia Union, the Maryland freshman goalkeeper was dominant in leading the Terrapins to a 2-1 win over Virginia in the College Cup.
Steffen, a Philadelphia Union youth academy product and a potential Union Homegrown signing, made five saves to help the Terps advance to Sunday’s national championship game, drawing high praise from his coach in the process.
“There are very few goalkeepers in the country that can do the things he can do,” Maryland head man Sasho Cirovski said. “He still has a long way to go but he is a special person and a special goalkeeper. He’s extremely coachable, he’s mentally tough and he keeps getting better.”
Steffen saved his best save for last, diving to his right to thwart what would have been the game-tying goal from Virginia’s Brian James with less than three minutes left in the contest.
And Virginia coach George Gelnovatch, who lamented that his team “got beat by two guys” – Steffen and Patrick Mullins, who scored both of Maryland’s goals – still isn’t sure how the ball didn’t go in.
“I think that the goalkeeper making that save, I was already up off my chair,” Gelnovatch said. “I thought it was an outstanding save, on an icy surface, on a very, very well-taken shot by Brian James. He picked out his corner and side-footed it. I don’t know where Zack came from to make that save.”
Union fans are well-aware of where Steffen came from and many of them may now be counting down the days until he signs with Philly.
Steffen, though, has said he’d like to wait a little while before turning pro. For now, he was just excited to step inside PPL Park, where he used to play with the Union reserves. The Maryland freshman, who hails from nearby Downingtown, estimated he had about 20-30 friends and family members in attendance – and more are expected for Sunday’s national championship game against Notre Dame.
“It’s obviously special having them here cheering,” Steffen said. “It helps all players, even though we tune it out sometimes. But it’s important to me.”
Interestingly enough, one of Steffen’s best saves came against fellow Union academy product Darius Madison in the 49th minute, as he redirected a shot that then hit off the post.
Afterwards, the two friends and potential future teammates in Philly exchanged a few words with each other.
“He just said, ‘Nice save,’” the soft-spoken Steffen recalled. “And I said, ‘Nice shot.’”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.