Zack Steffen is 23 years old, the winner of the 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award, and ready to take a second shot at success in a top European league.
The Columbus Crew and USMNT backstop seems likely to join Manchester City on Jan. 1, a destination which has caused significant (and misunderstood) consternation amongst American fans.
[ RECAP: Lyon 2-2 Man City ]
Assuming City has a good feel it can get a special exemption work permit for Steffen, the question uttered most often seems to be, “Why would the presumed No. 1 USMNT goalkeeper go somewhere to be a No. 2?”
The other criticism of the move seems to be, “He’s just going to go on loan to” one of City’s sister clubs like NAC Breda in the Eredivisie.
The answer to the first question is easy. The second? Maybe just as much so.
First off, Manchester City is in a goalkeeping quandary. It has already had to recall Arijanet Muric from a loan stint after losing Claudio Bravo to injury on the heels of selling Angus Gunn to Southampton in August.
Should City defeat Leicester in December’s League Cup quarterfinals, the club will be in four competitions once Steffen arrives and get up to speed. Even if Guardiola is cautious, it’s likely that Steffen will play in League Cup and FA Cup matches during a time he would otherwise be on his proverbial, or actual, couch.
He’ll also be training every day with one of the best teams in the world, something certain to improve his footwork in distribution as he looks to fend off challenges to his No. 1 national team spot from Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath and others.
It’s been well-noted that Tim Howard was 23 when he began his 13-year European journey with Manchester United and Everton, although it’s much different as Alex Ferguson was ready to take the No. 1 shirt from Fabian Barthez and give it to Howard (although he pulled it back one year later).
Steffen left the University of Maryland to join Freiburg in the Bundesliga, but couldn’t get playing time. Now he goes back a bit wiser and with a lot more experience.
It’s a tough road for goalkeepers unless they are entrenched somewhere. It’s unlikely that Steffen is going unseat Ederson, but you can be sure City is only going to loan him to a place where he’ll have a legit chance at winning the No. 1.
And if he can’t win the No. 1 job there? Well, guess what USMNT fans? You’ve got much bigger problems if no one can unseat him.
Finally, what if he stays the backup at City, and isn’t playing week-in and week-out? Bravo is 35, and could be gone. Muric is no guarantee to improve enough to unseat him, and Bravo played 19 matches as a healthy backup to Ederson last season.
Finally, he’s going to get a massive raise. That’s not a small thing, and certainly nothing anyone should begrudge him.