MARIETTA, Ga. – He’s one of the top goalkeepers in Major League Soccer, a 2018 MLS All-Star and rising US national team player whose performances drew a sizable, and unsuccessful, $3.9 million transfer bid from English Championship club Bristol City earlier this month.
Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen’s name is ringing out these days, and he’s ready to keep moving his career forward, on whatever path presents itself. But for now, he says, he’s content to bide his time when it comes to big moves like the one that emerged from England’s second division.
“There were a lot of moving parts, but at the end of the day the deal just didn’t go through,” Steffen told reporters after the All-Stars’ Monday morning practice at Atlanta United’s Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground ahead of Wednesday's 2018 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target (7:30 pm ET | ESPN, UniMás; TSN, TVAS in Canada).
MLSsoccer.com’s Sam Stejskal reported on July 19 that Crew SC had received, and declined, Bristol City’s seven-figure transfer offer for Steffen. Even a financial agreement suitable for both sides would not have been the final hurdle on such a move, however.
Under the United Kingdom’s stringent requirements, the Pennsylvania native’s limited number of USMNT caps to date would preclude him from automatically receiving a work permit, likely forcing him to undergo an appeals process to earn authorization to join the Robins.
“That definitely would’ve been a risk,” Steffen said. “It was 50/50 whether I would’ve gotten it or not. So that was obviously another key aspect of the whole deal. But hey, everything happens for a reason.”
After two sterling NCAA seasons at the University of Maryland, Steffen began his professional career in Germany in December 2014, spending a year and a half with Bundesliga side SC Freiburg before returning stateside two years ago to join Crew SC, where he’s blossomed as the starter under coach Gregg Berhalter.
“I’m happy in Columbus and my focus is on Columbus right now,” Steffen said. “My goal is to go back to Europe, whenever that is. I don’t have that much of a say; it’s when teams want to come in and talk. But my goal is to go back over there at some point.”
Steffen and Crew SC currently sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 10-7-6 record – “we’re happy, but we’re not getting complacent and we’ll keep working,” he noted – and have legitimate ambitions of an MLS Cup run. He’s said that his time across the Atlantic was challenging both on and off the field, and while he’d like to try his hand again at some point, he recognizes the importance of seizing the best opportunity to do so, not just the first.
“I learned, at least in Germany, how the soccer life is over there and how they work and what Europe is like and what life is like off the pitch over there. So that definitely is in the back of my mind for the future,” Steffen said. “There was good experiences and bad experiences. At the end of the day, I’m happy I decided to come back.
“I’ve just got to stay focused and keep going and hopefully more things will come.”