It didn’t take long for Zack Steffen to take over as the starting goalkeeper for Columbus Crew SC.
The 21 year old joined the Black & Gold last July and just over seven months later head coach Gregg Berhalter anointed him the man in net.
“The starting goalkeeper on Saturday will be Zach Steffen, that’s clear,” he said at Crew SC’s media day on Thursday. “We worked through that in the final week of preseason and that’s our choice to start the season.”
Throughout the preseason, Berhalter continued to state that both (and all three when Logan Ketterer was drafted out of Bradley University) keepers were playing well and working hard, but he was not ready to name a starter.
During the Carolina Challenge Cup last week, Steffen played 90 minutes in two of the three games and saw action in the other. The slightly more experience Brad Stuver played the first half of the game against the Charleston Battery, but didn’t see the field in an official match other than that.
In those games, Steffen looked the part, making the saves to help Columbus bring home the trophy and also showing his ability to distribute with his feet. It was in that stretch that Berhalter made his decision to go with the younger Steffen.
“I think Brad was playing well, Zack was playing well,” the head coach said. “It wasn’t until that last week of preseason that Zack separated himself from Brad.”
This announcement means Steffen is set to make his Crew SC debut, taking part in not only his first Major League Soccer match but also his first first-team contest after playing with Freiburg II before joining the Black & Gold.
While neither goalkeeper has much experience at this level, Steffen comes into the year slightly behind Stuver in that department, but his play in the preseason has his teammates confident he can do the job.
“What I’ve been really impressed with is throughout preseason he’s grown better and better,” captain Wil Trapp said of Steffen. “Whether it was the first game in Brazil to the last game against Seattle, his confidence has grown. It’s not an easy position as we’ve seen with our goalkeepers in the past. We ask a lot of them with their feet and Zack responded extremely well to high-pressure situations in preseason games. His quality on the ball’s been great. His leadership in that position has also been really commendable.”
While Steffen will start, Berhalter did not close the door on the keeper competition. Although he has been known to stick with one goalie in the past, Steve Clark played every game for nearly his entire three years with the club, Steffen will have to perform well to hold off Stuver.
“As a coach, you’d like it to be much more clear, but we’re comfortable with this decision,” Berhalter said. “I think Zack has earned it and I think Brad is still in a position where he can potentially get an opportunity.”
This may concern some fans, but Berhalter and the team believe in Steffen’s ability to step in and help shore up a retooled defense that is looking to improve on a disappointing 2016.
The new season, along with the Zack Steffen era, kicks off on Saturday when the new-look Chicago Fire come to MAPFRE Stadium at 2:00 p.m. ET.