When Columbus Crew SC lost to the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals in early November, many reasonably thought that would be Zack Steffen’s last match with the club. After all, the 23-year-old goalkeeper had a stellar season with the Black & Gold, which catapulted him to the starting spot with the U.S. National Team and international teams, which had already approached the Crew during the season, would come back even stronger to acquire his services.
When the inevitable confirmation of Steffen’s selling happened earlier this week, though, it came with a piece of good news for the Black & Gold as the goalkeeper won’t join English Premier League giants Manchester City until July 9, when Major League Soccer’s Secondary Transfer Window opens.
The opportunity to keep Major League Soccer’s Goalkeeper of the Year is obviously huge for the Crew, but that’s not the only positive of Steffen’s delayed departure. With him on board for the first few months of the season, Columbus gets much-welcomed extra time to scout and acquire a capable replacement for him, especially in a moment where the franchise could have new ownership take over at any time.
“The impact was just beneficial at this stage for both clubs,” Crew SC’s interim general manager Pat Onstad explained in a conference call on Tuesday. “I think to kind of wrap his head around it and get six more months with us is a good opportunity for him. I think it fits well with our team and our scouts now to make sure we have a target.
“We know when we’re trying to go after a goalkeeper and trying to get him in the squad. The most important thing is that Zack was comfortable with it from both parties and this is the way we went and I think it’s great for both teams.”
The added time gives the Crew some options on how it will approach the hard task of replacing Steffen. The team can either make an effort to bring a new goalkeeper in before the start of the season so he has enough time to adjust to a new team (and perhaps a new league) or it can wait until the transfer window opens in July to sign him.
Onstad won’t rule out any of the options but one thing he wants to make sure is that Columbus picks the right person for the job. As Steffen’s case showed, it’s important to find the right situation for all parties involved.
“I think when we identify the exact player that we’re going to go after, it’s almost the same situation that we have with Zack leaving is that you have to see how the club’s receptive when the timing is right for both parties,” Onstad said. “So there are a lot of little factors that come into it. But we’ve got our eye on a few and we’ve had conversations that have gone down the path to a certain extent. But at this stage, we’ll just see what timing is right for both clubs.
“The number one thing for us is to make sure Zack is ready to go at the beginning of the season and then, when we don’t have Zack here anymore, that we have a qualified number one in behind him.”
During the first six months of the year, however, Crew SC doesn’t need to worry about goalkeeping. Even though he’s ready to jump into the greatest opportunity of his career in the summer, Steffen guaranteed he’ll be entirely focuses on his remaining time Columbus until July 9 comes.
“I have more motivation to go back and work harder and increase my level of play in all aspects of goalkeeping and to lead the team with the new coach we bring on,” the goalkeeper added. “Obviously there will be some changes and I want to leave everything that I can in Columbus and know that the last six months, I gave Columbus everything I have.”