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Zack Steffen: He’s got it all

The goalkeeper’s teammates and coach reflect on his impressive time in the MLS.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

When soccer fans talk about Zack Steffen, words like special, different and mature often come up in conversation. The phenom is perhaps best summed up by Columbus Crew SC head coach Caleb Porter in saying, “This guy’s got it all.”

The 24-year-old has dominated the league since he was acquired by the Crew in 2016 after signing from SC Freiburg. In 2018, he was named the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, solidifying the belief held by fans and teammates alike that he is, in fact, the best.

Captain Wil Trapp and Steffen go way back, giving Trapp the opportunity to see the keeper develop on and off the field over the years.

“His maturity and growth over the last year is something I’m proud to see, but I’m not surprised,” said the midfielder. “He’s always had that next-level potential in him and he’s such a humble, hardworking guy.”

Steffen was signed by Columbus in 2016 after a successful collegiate career at the University of Maryland and a brief stint with Freiburg. In 2017, Steffen became the Crew’s starting goalkeeper and had an incredibly successful season, helping his team make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Forward Pedro Santos said he knew from his first few days with the Black & Gold that Steffen had promise. His first impression was that “[Steffen] will be the best keeper in the league.”

From a technical standpoint, Porter can think of no one better.

“He’s very complete,” the head coach said. “His feet are good. He has shot-stopping ability. He’s good on crosses.”

Perhaps even more impressive, however, is the mentality Steffen shows. Porter called it “ice in his veins,” something a lot of young keepers struggle with. Steffen has shown an impressive learning curve and continues to improve, but for his age and all-around skill, his ability to stay mentally strong is incredible.

“He’s one of the few goalkeepers that I’ve seen that has it all,” said Porter.

All of this is what made Steffen desirable for English Premier League giants Manchester City, who signed the goalkeeper from the Black & Gold in November. The move won’t go through until July but with the upcoming Gold Cup, Steffen will play his final game for the Crew on Saturday against New York City FC.

Having watched him go from a young goalkeeper playing up two years to England’s top league, Trapp remains impressed with how Steffen has developed into a leader. Not only is he focused on his own game, he is able to lead others to perform their best as well. Steffen’s relationship with his backline allows them to trust him and play more confidently and aggressively. He is vocal on the field, a quality respected and appreciated by his teammates.

“You just have more confidence when he’s back there because he’s not going to give up the easy ones. That level of confidence allows guys to be a little bit more aggressive defending,” Trapp said of his friend current club and international teammate.

Steffen’s intensity doesn’t translate to his relationships off the field. Anyone who knows the goalkeeper understands how important family is to him, and Trapp says that’s just the kind of guy he is.

“He’s kind of an introvert in some ways and just likes to be surrounded by loving, caring people and what better than your family,” said the captain.

Steffen’s family travels from their home in Philadelphia to Columbus as often as they can to catch their brother/son in action, and when they are in town, Zack hangs out with them as much as possible.

His family and fans will see him in Black & Gold one last time this Saturday when he and his team suit up against NYCFC before heading off for Manchester.