OBETZ, Ohio – One of the most promising American goalkeepers has returned to the United States, and he’s not where most expected him to be.
Columbus Crew SC signed goalkeeper Zack Steffen from Germany’s Freiburg in July, bringing the former US youth national team player to MLS in Ohio rather than Pennsylvania. Many observers believed Steffen was a Homegrown option for his hometown Philadelphia Union, but, in actuality, Columbus had Discovery Rights on him.
“I wasn’t a Homegrown with [the Union] and Columbus had the discovery claim on me,” the 21-year-old Steffen said. “I didn’t know that. My agent told me that when I told him I wanted to come back. But I love it here, so I’m glad it worked out.”
Steffen has been in training with Crew SC for two weeks, and is pleased to get going again after time off because of Germany's offseason. But perhaps more importantly, he’s already finding comfort in America after a year-and-a-half overseas.
“It’s amazing to be back,” he said. “I’m a homebody, so it’s nice to be closer to my family and friends and to get used to some normality.”
He said he “never thought much into the future” in Germany, but wasn’t happy. When the Columbus deal came together quickly, he said he looked forward to having an easier day-to-day life.
“It’s definitely tougher, especially being a goalkeeper, to not have a support system over there and not have your family and friends there,” Steffen said, “especially after a bad training or a tough loss to take your mind off of it and hang out with family and friends.”
For now, Steffen is living with the family of Alex Crognale, his University of Maryland teammate and Crew SC academy graduate. And while the presence of veteran netminder Steve Clark means he likely will not get a chance to step on the field immediately in Columbus, Steffen isn’t worried about when he’ll start earning minutes.
“As a goalkeeper, you’ve just got to be patient,” he said. “Your time comes when it comes. You can’t really have a set time to where you’re [expecting] to be the No. 1. Steve is a great goalkeeper and [Brad Stuver] is also a great goalkeeper. The goalkeepers in Germany are really good and I’m young. so I’m just trying to get better each day.”
Head coach Gregg Berhalter said he’s been happy with what Steffen has brought to training, but isn’t sure when Crew SC fans may see the new goalkeeper play.
“With goalkeepers, it’s about routine, it’s about getting experience,” Berhalter said. “We’ll see how we manage through these next couple months.”