How long will Zack Steffen stay with Columbus Crew SC?
The question that has probably been asked by every Black & Gold fan at some point during the last several hours still doesn’t have a clear answer, despite reports that the Crew has rejected a $3.9 million offer from English Championship side Bristol City. But regardless of what the final decision is, one thing is for sure: it will be a well-pondered one.
Since the rumors regarding the offer surfaced on Wednesday, Crew SC and Steffen himself have been engaged in discussions about the keeper’s future. The latest meeting reportedly happened before the team’s Thursday’s training session at MAPFRE Stadium.
“We have our valuation for him, we’ll be in conversations with Zack, but it’s something that’s completely normal and that happens in every transfer window,” head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter told the media after practice.
“We work together with the players, it’s not always a perfect balance, but we like input from the players, we like to talk to them early about their career goals and where they see their career heading and we try to help them to realize their goals. It’s a genuine and honest conversation about goals and evaluating opportunities.”
The decision-making process adopted by the club and Berhalter is one that definitely pleases Steffen. At just 23, the keeper appreciates the support he’s getting from the coach in a moment where he could be making a very important decision regarding the future of his career.
“We have had an open dialogue this whole time,” Steffen commented. “Ever since I got here he’s been a good manager of players. We’ve had a lot of discussions and he’s really good to advocate for myself. It’s good to step aside and talk.”
But even if Berhalter assures that the decision will be made by mutual agreement, the potential negative outcomes of letting his goalkeeper, and arguably best player, walk in the middle of the season are not being overlooked.
There are several factors that weighed against selling Steffen, whose career is developing quickly with multiple call-ups for the U.S. National Team in 2018, and each of them will be carefully examined by the coach and his staff before a final decision is made.
“I won’t rule anything out, it doesn’t make sense,” Berhalter added. “But there are complications. If you analyze it in a vacuum, it may sound great, but the other side of it is that we’re in the middle of a season and we’re competing for a championship. And what is that going to do to our championship hopes?
“That’s something we have to consider and there’s no easy answer for that. We can wonder what his value would be six months from now and we can realize that we’re in midseason, so there’s all of these things to consider that make it a very difficult problem.”
Other barriers could be the limited time the Crew would have to find a replacement for Steffen if he was to be sold. Except for the unlikely scenario of the coaching staff considering Jon Kempin ready to take over, the club would have a little more than two weeks to sign another goalkeeper, as MLS’s secondary transfer window closes on August 8.
“There’s a natural deadline, which is August 31 for European clubs, and we’d have to get something done before that,” Berhalter continued. “And for us there’s a problem in that, which would be after our transfer window ended and it would be difficult to bring someone in.”
For Steffen, while a final decision is made, it’s all about remaining focused on what happens on the field. With the team set to host Orlando City SC at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday, the keeper expects for a quick resolution.
“That’s how it happens, it’s fast,” he said about the negotiations. “These offers are coming all the time, not for me, but for the players on the team. It’s part of the whole transfer window, so it’s just about staying level-headed and just keeping focused on the team I’m on now. I love Columbus. I’m very devoted to this team and I’m very happy here and I’m focused on the team goals.”
Whether it happens now or later, Steffen is confident playing in Europe again will be part of this future. The goalkeeper spent time with German side SC Freiburg, starting for the club’s second team and working as their third-string goalkeeper before his return to the United States and Crew SC and is looking forward to returning to the continent.
According to him, there are no preferences for a specific country or league, but he’ll be looking for the right situation.
“I definitely want to go over to Europe,” he confirmed. “I do believe in myself and the goal is to play in one of the top five leagues and however that comes, and if it comes, is up to God and his plan and how I perform.
“Every club, every city and every league will be different, so it’s just going to be based on the situation and what I see and hear over there and how I feel about it. You never know what’s going to happen and that’s why you just got to stay focused and do your job.”