Zack Steffen is moving to Manchester City of the English Premier League Columbus Crew SC announced on Tuesday. The 23-year-old goalkeeper will join the defending EPL champions on July 9, 2019, at the beginning of the secondary transfer market.
The news of Steffen departing should not be new to Crew SC fans. The transfer of Steffen to City was first reported by The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio and confirmed by Massive Report in late November. At that point, it appeared Steffen would join the English giants and have to move on loan due to potential issues acquiring a work permit.
“This is a historic transaction for the Club and a special moment for Zack Steffen that we are immensely proud of,” Crew SC interim general manager Pat Onstad said in a press release. “Today’s announcement is the culmination of two and a half years of development and success for Zack. As someone who worked closely with Zack throughout, on behalf of the Club, I would like to say that we couldn’t be happier for him. Manchester City Football Club is one of the top clubs in the world and we are pleased to finalize this agreement that benefits the player and both clubs. We continue to believe that players that come to Crew SC have an opportunity to develop and become great players either here in MLS or abroad.”
The goalkeeper has been a target by European clubs for some time now. As recently as last summer, English side Bristol City made a $3.9 million offer for Steffen that Crew SC turned down. Massive Report learned that Bristol City was not the only club interested in Steffen and that Manchester City came out to scout the goalkeeper at least once during the 2018 season.
Steffen came to the Black & Gold from German side Freiburg in July of 2016. In his first season in MLS, Steffen did not make an appearance for Columbus. The 23 year old then took over as the team’s starter the next year following the departure of Steve Clark. Steffen started all 34 MLS matches that season, recording nine shutouts.
In 2018, Steffen built on an impressive debut year for the Black & Gold, starting 29 games and recording 10 shutouts — which tied for second on Crew SC’s single season list with Jon Busch (2004) and William Hesmer (2008) — and had a goals against average of 1.28. Steffen also set a new club record for the longest shutout streak in regular season action, keeping a clean sheet for 525 straight minutes. Steffen’s streak is also the eighth-longest regular season shutout streak in MLS history.
Steffen was rewarded for his on-the-field play, as he was named MLS Player of the Month for May. He was also named an MLS All-Star in 2018, playing the second half of the game against Juventus and recording three saves. In early November, Steffen was named the 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and an MLS Best XI player.
“Any success that I have had as a goalkeeper in MLS with Crew SC is a testament to those around me who have pushed me – teammates, coaches, staff, family, friends and supporters,” Steffen said in the release. “Today’s announcement regarding next summer is a special moment for me and I look forward to finishing my time with this Club on a strong note. I am eager to continue to put in the work to improve and be the best teammate I can.”
The decision to not sell Steffen to City until July, instead of the January transfer window, is an interesting one by Crew SC. It means the Black & Gold will enter the year with their starting goalkeeper returning, but also knowing they must replace him four months into the season.
Jon Kempin and Ben Lundgaard are the two other goalkeepers currently on the Crew SC roster. Kempin is set to enter his 10th season in MLS and second with Columbus but has never made more than seven starts in a year. Lundgaard will begin his second progressional season in 2019 after the Black & Gold selected the goalkeeper 21st overall in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. He spent the majority of the season on loan or recovering from a thumb injury. Lundgaard is yet to make an appearance for Crew SC.
“Ahead of Zack’s departure next summer,” Onstad said in the release, “our scouts already have players targeted as the Club identifies a high-caliber replacement.”
Finding a replacement for Steffen will either require taking a step back at the position, a risk on another young goalkeeper or the spending of substantial funds to maintain the quality in the net. Keeping Steffen until July allows more time for the club to scout potential replacements, but either means having two starting-level goalkeepers on the roster entering 2019 or attempting to integrate a new keeper in the summer.