Zack Steffen, Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes are yet to join Columbus Crew SC at the team’s preseason camp, but even though they’re not with the Black & Gold, first-year head coach Caleb Porter is tracking each of their moves.
All three players featured in the U.S. Men’s National Team friendly match against Panama last Monday in Arizona and Porter, who was in Chula Vista, California, with the Crew, spent a couple of hours of his night watching the American 3-0 victory and, of course, new players.
“I watch every National Team game,” the coach said in a media teleconference on Friday. “We work in a league in this country where it’s important to be in the National Team and we have three players that are there, it makes it even more interesting and important. Gyasi and Zack were very good. Wil came in late, so not much a body of work but we’ll see, I’m sure, he gets a game this next one.”
Steffen is the most likely of all three to secure a permanent starting spot with the National Team under former Crew coach Gregg Berhalter. Against Panama, the 23-year-old shot-stopper, who will join English Premier League giants Manchester City in July, was as reliable as it gets during the 74 minutes he remained on the field, responding well every time he was requested.
His ball distribution in the game, a skill he developed under Berhalter, was praised by Porter.
“You think about the key save he made when it was 1-0, that could have been 1-1 and those are the types of saves that really need your goalkeeper to make, in a big moment,” Porter explained. “I thought he was very good with his feet, his distribution was good and he did what he needed to when called upon to make a play.”
Zardes, who was Columbus’ top goal scorer in last year’s Major League Soccer campaign and the league’s top American finisher, also had a starting role in Arizona and he responded with his tremendous work rate and intensity. The forward played 84 minutes, but couldn’t manage to score a goal, even though he had a couple of chances to do so.
To Porter, however, he easily passed the eye test thanks to his dedication.
“Gyasi was a bit unlucky not to score, but he was a threat, as he always is,” the coach added. “We’re looking forward to having him back in our group because that will certainly help us have a little bit more cutting edge in the final third. I thought Gyasi was Gyasi. He’s got a great work rate, he’s athletic and dynamic and he’s always able to cause a lot of problems.”
The National Team ends its January camp on Saturday, when it faces Costa Rica in San Jose, California. After that, Steffen, Trapp and Zardes will join Crew’s preseason and Porter will start working with them.
Although the coach understands the importance of having the players with the National Team, he cannot wait to have them on board and start working with the full roster as the Crew’s first game of 2019 against the New York Red Bulls on March 2 approaches.
“It’s great to see Crew players out there,” Porter commented. “Not many teams have three players in the U.S. National Team. It’s great for them and I have always thought that when they go on with the National Team, while we lose their services, we obviously drop a notch in level, it helps because now guys have to step up and it raises their levels because they’re there in a really top environment. So, when they come back, we’re better and they’re better, so the team gets better.”
Steffen, Trapp and Zardes likely won’t be on the field on Monday, when the Crew plays Los Angeles Football Club at Banc of California Stadium, in Los Angeles, but they are expected to be available for the Carolina Cup Challenge, from February 16-23.