NASHVILLE — It nearly wasn’t Zack Steffen’s night.
The 23-year-old US men's national team and Columbus Crew SC 'keeper started strong in the 1-0 win over Mexico at Nissan Stadium on Tuesday with a lunging punch-out save over the cross bar in the 16th minute. However, he committed what could have been a costly gaffe 16 minutes later.
Steffen came out to play a loose ball in the corner of the box and a miscommunication with his defenders resulted in Steffen falling on the ball outside the box. The free kick off the handball was cleared with ease, and Steffen recovered nicely to make one more solid save before halftime.
“As a goalkeeper, you’re going to make mistakes,” he said. “You’re going to mess up plays. It’s life, it’s going to happen. It’s just how you bounce back and how you do in the next plays that follow that characterize you.”
Steffen responded as well as possible, finishing out the three-save clean sheet and a performance that caught the eye of head coach Dave Sarachan he continues to evaluate his goalkeeping options.
“He made some key stops tonight and that’s what goalkeepers are supposed to do,” Sarachan said. “I think Zack has a lot of attributes in terms of being a very good goalkeeper, but one of them has got to be making plays when they are required and keeping the ball out of the net in moments that come. He’s been consistent, he’s got a calming presence, he’s playing with a lot of confidence, and he’s moved himself up the ladder, there’s no question about it.”
After a mixed performance against Brazil, Steffen was able to settle down and earn a clean sheet on Tuesday despite plenty of obstacles. His job was made tougher by switches in the defensive personnel in front of him Tuesday. The only defender to start both vs. Mexico and Brazil matches was Matt Miazga, so Steffen had to be able to communicate effectively with an almost brand new backline.
“It’s tough to communicate with such a loud crowd behind me, but I thought the guys did well in front of me to keep the chances to a minimum,” Steffen said. “Mexico moved off the ball well and we just had to stay alert and I thought the guys did well.”
With another USMNT camp coming up and a run through the MLS Cup Playoffs in the cards for Crew SC, Steffen hopes to ride the wave of this clean sheet to more big moments this fall.
“It gives me confidence to keep coming back and doing well and keep going to Columbus and working hard and getting better,” he said. “It’s a process and we’re in a weird state right now, but I’m going to keep it going.”