The United States has consistently produced some of the best goalkeepers in the world, of which Zack Steffen is the latest example. He follows in a line of elite Americans who have featured in the English Premier League.
The 26-year-old Pennsylvania native is the undisputed starting goalkeeper of the U.S. national team (21 appearance and counting) and, on May 29, he could be one of the few Americans to hoist a UEFA Champions League trophy.
What makes Steffen so good?
Steffen is a world-class shot-stopper. Pure and simple. He has the reflexes and positioning instincts that allow him to make saves other goalkeepers can only dream about. It’s a big reason why he has built a reputation as a penalty kick specialist (more on that later).
Another reason Manchester City and their legendary coach Pep Guardiola wanted Steffen at the club was his footwork: Goalkeepers are expected to participate in build-up play and kickstart the attack with their distribution. Steffen became proficient at this facet of the game during his years with the Columbus Crew in MLS, where his coach made it a part of the team’s philosophy of play.
That same coach, Gregg Berhalter, is now head of the U.S. national team.
How’d he get to Manchester City?
Steffen is only 26, but his road to Manchester City was a long and winding one.
After starring with Pennsylvania youth soccer powerhouse FC Delco and occasionally for the Philadelphia Union’s academy team, Steffen joined the renowned University of Maryland soccer program. He spent two soccer seasons as a Terrapin in 2013 and ’14, helped them to an NCAA title game appearance in 2013, then turned pro after his sophomore season.
He signed with SC Freiburg in Germany, featuring mainly for their reserve team from 2014 through 2016 before returning stateside in Major League Soccer with Columbus. He won the Crew’s starting spot in 2017 and never looked back, becoming a league All-Star and 2018 Goalkeeper of the Year. Manchester City took notice and acquired him for a reported $10 million transfer fee in 2019.
Man City loaned Steffen to German club Fortuna Dusseldorf for his first season, but then made him their backup goalkeeper during the 2020-2021 season, during which he became the first American man to win the English Premier League.
Although he backs up 27-year-old Brazilian starter Ederson, Steffen still started 12 matches in various cup competitions (one Premier League appearance), with his team winning all but one: a loss in the FA Cup semifinals. He only allowed 6 goals in those 12 matches.
Steffen: Penalty-kick specialist
Some goalkeepers just have what it takes when it comes to penalties. Steffen is one of them.
In MLS, he stopped five of 15 penalties he faced, and that’s not counting his heroics in two penalty kick shootouts during the MLS playoffs: He saved two penalties each against Atlanta in 2017 and DC in 2018.
Steffen has yet to face a penalty while at Manchester City. But given his track record, it wouldn’t be far-fetched for Guardiola to one day bring Steffen into a match just to handle a penalty-kick shootout.