Zack Steffen’s move to Manchester City came with something of a surprising wrinkle when it was officially announced earlier this week.
Contrary to previous reporting by MLSsoccer.com and other outlets, Steffen won’t join the English Premier League giants in January. Instead, he’ll remain with Columbus Crew SC until the summer transfer window opens in July, at which point he’ll link up with Pep Guardiola and Co.
The reasons for the delay are multi-faceted. Two of the driving factors, according to sources familiar with the deal, are Steffen’s chances of obtaining a work permit and the fact that he was unlikely to feature for Manchester City down the stretch of their 2017-18 season.
Though he emerged in 2018 as the USMNT No. 1, Steffen doesn’t currently have enough international experience to automatically qualify for an English work permit. If he left in January, he’d have to be approved by an appeals panel before he could be officially added to Manchester City’s roster. Having an appeal granted is far from certain. Numerous American internationals have had trouble with the process in the past, including retired goalkeeper Brad Freidel and, most recently, New England Revolution forward Juan Agudelo. Steffen acknowledged the difficulties of obtaining a work permit earlier this week.
“That’s the tough part – that’s what we’re trying to figure out right now,” he said in the wake of the transfer announcement. “There have been discussions on certain plans, but nothing is really finalized right now. But we are looking into the whole work permit.”
By waiting until summer to make the move, Steffen gives himself six months to continue to build his resume with the USMNT. Starting the team’s two post-January camp friendlies, playing potential friendlies in March and getting games in official competition in the Concacaf Gold Cup, which ends on July 7, two days before the summer transfer window opens in England, will only boost his case for a work permit should he have to go before the appeals panel.
In the meantime, it’s not like Manchester City are in dire need of help in net. Ederson is one of the top goalkeepers in the world. They don’t have much experience behind him due to the torn Achilles that Claudio Bravo suffered in preseason, but, barring injury to Ederson, it’s unlikely that Steffen would’ve played many meaningful matches for City this spring. Per the sources, a winter loan to one of Manchester City's affiliated clubs in the Netherlands or Spain probably would’ve yielded a similar lack of playing time.
By remaining in Columbus a few extra months, Steffen will continue to get regular first-team games, more easily build his resume with the USMNT and give himself time to prepare for a career- and life-changing move. He’ll also be able to integrate into the Manchester City setup during their summer preseason as opposed to in the middle of their ongoing title race. That’ll be easier on several levels, and it should allow Steffen to more easily earn a No. 1 job should City send him on loan next season.
Crew SC certainly aren’t complaining, either. They’ll keep the 2018 Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year around for an additional 15 or so matches, and they’ll receive a few extra months to identify and onboard Steffen’s eventual replacement.
It’ll delay the gratification of completing his transfer, but waiting until July to move to England should be a win for Manchester City, Columbus and, most importantly, Steffen.