Zack Steffen is gone. Officially, the goalkeeper is still a member of Columbus Crew SC until the summer transfer window opens in July. That’s when Steffen will make his Major League Soccer transfer for a goalkeeper to Manchester City — and then go on loan to German club Fortuna Dusseldorf. But he played his final game for the Black & Gold last Saturday before heading off to the Gold Cup with
The question now is who will be the next starting goalkeeper for the Crew? The options, two MLS veterans in Jon Kempin and Joe Bendik.
Kempin is in his 10th season in MLS after originally signing a Homegrown contract with Sporting Kansas City in 2010. In two seasons with the Black & Gold, Kempin made six appearances, including five last year as Steffen’s primary backup, going 2-1-2.
The Overland Park, Kansas native has the experience of playing for the Crew longer and also is very familiar with Steffen and how he controls his backline dating back to their days with the U.S. Youth National Team.
“Pretty much, every age group starting at U-14’s to the senior team, I went to a majority of the camps and every camp until a significant tournament there was Zack,” Kempin said, “and there went my spot.”
Kempin joined Columbus in 2018, a year and a half after the Crew acquired Steffen. Even in the professional ranks, Steffen was the young up-and-coming star goalkeeper and he was again the backup. When Steffen was called up for the U.S. team, Kempin was the starter, providing him with an opportunity to play.
With Steffen leaving the team for good, Kempin now has a chip on his shoulders as he fights for the starting spot.
“My sights have been set on when he leaves,” he told Massive Report. “I’ll be ready for that time.”
Kempin made his first Black & Gold appearance this season just three weeks ago against Minnesota United. Columbus lost 1-0 in the end but Kempin played well, making two saves. Head coach Caleb Porter said Kempin was given this particular start because, “I felt he deserved the opportunity.”
In competition with Kempin is Bendik, who joined the club in the offseason. Despite being four years Kempin’s elder, Bendik is in his eighth season in MLS after two years in Norway. In his first season with Columbus, Bendik already made two appearances when Steffen was out. The most recent came in a 3-0 loss to Los Angeles Football Club on May 11.
Despite giving up the backup role in recent weeks, Bendik isn’t out of the running to step in as the starting goalkeeper.
“The mentality to work hard every day doesn’t change whether you’re one, two or three,” he explained.
When you look at the games Bendik has played, the goalkeeper has gotten the short end of the stick. The first game was a 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union with multiple regulars missing for the Crew. This also was the start of a good run of form from the Union. If you take away the second goal against LAFC, one that is hard to blame on the goalkeeper, Bendik and company held the best team in the league to one goal for about 85 minutes while the team created chances. Needless to say, it was a strong effort by the Black & Gold when Bendik was in the net.
Despite a battle to be Steffen’s backup and now become his replacement, the relationship between the goalkeepers remains positive.
“It’s good. Goalkeepers have that special bond between each other,” Bendik said. “He’s got a lot of experience in a lot of areas that some guys don’t. He’s a good hard worker.”
It’s likely that no matter who lands the starting role, the friendship between the two will never change. It will hurt for the loser of the competition, but he will know that it was a fair chance and keep fighting.