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Man City sign USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen

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One of the worst kept secrets in American soccer is now official: Zack Steffen has signed for Manchester City.

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The Columbus Crew SC and U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper will officially join the reigning Premier League champions on July 9, 2019 at the start of the secondary transfer window in Major League Soccer.

In a statement released by Columbus, they say the transfer fee is “the largest in club history and most ever received by an MLS club for a goalkeeper in the League’s 23-year history.”

It is believed Steffen will cost City around $10 million.

Steffen, 23, has become a regular for the USMNT over the past 12 months and has made six appearances for the Stars and Stripes which included a superb display against 2018 World Cup winners France in a 1-1 friendly draw in Lyon back in June

Speaking about his upcoming move to the Premier League, Steffen is delighted to get the opportunity and he hopes to continue progressing with Columbus over the next seven months.

“Any success that I have had as a goalkeeper in MLS with Crew SC is a testament to those around me who have pushed me – teammates, coaches, staff, family, friends and supporters,” Steffen said. “Today’s announcement regarding next summer is a special moment for me and I look forward to finishing my time with this Club on a strong note. I am eager to continue to put in the work to improve and be the best teammate I can.”

Steffen’s development has been clear for all to see over the past 18 months, as he has flourished in Columbus under Gregg Berhalter. Brought in from German side SC Freiburg in 2016, the imposing goalkeeper has jumped to the top of the pack and ahead of Brad Guzan and Ethan Horvath as the USMNT’s top goalkeeper. Steffen was named the 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the year and was also an MLS All-Star in 2018.

It is likely the former University of Maryland goalkeeper will find minutes hard to come by at City for the foreseeable as current first-choice goalkeeper Ederson is just 25 years old, but Steffen’s move to the PL means he will be training with one of the top clubs in the world and that can only be a good thing for the USMNT moving forward.

More than likely Steffen will spend time out on loan at either Girona or others clubs with a close connection to the City Football Group (CFG) in the next few years, and this signing goes along with City’s mantra of trying to sign up the best young talent across the globe then either sell them on or loan them out for a sizeable fee.

Following in the footsteps of Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard and Brad Guzan before him, Steffen is the latest American to get his shot in the Premier League.

When preseason rolls around in 2019 we will be seeing Steffen in a Man City jersey.

The Soccer Hall of Fame’s “Essential XI” is infuriating

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Let’s get this out of the way: The National Soccer Hall of Fame’s “Essential XI” ballot — vote today! –will make you want to massage a mannequin made of broken glass.

That’s not because the XI isn’t fun, or the NSHOF won’t be amazing, but because choosing the members of this particular 3-4-3 is improbably difficult.

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I’ve filled out the XI a bunch of times, and not once have I felt good with my picks. Even the positions which seem clear cut… just… aren’t.

There’s one tip I’d give anyone considering their ballot: DO NOT choose a foreign player who played in the old NASL or an import who spent the waning days of his career in a nascent MLS.

Franz Beckenbauer and David Beckham definitely deserve credit for their contributions to American soccer, but having one of them pop up in an all-time XI would be an embarrassment in my — and I’m assuming many others’ — eyes.

Also, don’t do the write-in… the candidate won’t win (I made an XI of Josh Wolffs, anyway).

So here are the main options I wrestle with when I look at the nominees. Having men and women in the same XI is also a headache given the USWNT’s success.

Goalkeepers

Brad Friedel
Frank Borghi
Hope Solo
Nick Rimando
Tony Meola
Kasey Keller
Brianna Scurry
Mary Harvey
Tim Howard

Respect to all of these players, but it’s hard not to immediately strip this to Keller versus Howard (with Friedel in third, which is insane given our soccer culture). There’s recency bias here, I’m sure, but Howard’s success with Manchester United and then at Everton, holding the No. 1 chair for 10 seasons? That’s nuts. Keller’s career is nearly as amazing, and his performance against Brazil in the 1998 World Cup is close to Howard vs. Belgium in 2014. Brutal choice.

Ultimately I went with… Howard.

Defenders

Franz Beckenbauer
Harry Keough
Alexi Lalas
Marcelo Balboa
Christie Pearce Rampone
Steve Cherundolo
Carla Overbeck
Paul Caligiuri
Carlos Bocanegra
Brandi Chastain
Joy Fawcett
Kate Markgraf

Let me say this first, as a (horrible) forward, for some reason my favorite players were always backs. Bocanegra and Cherundolo are in my Top Three USMNT players of all-time. That said, it’s impossible to avoid Chastain’s status of holding the most iconic moment in U.S. Soccer history (It is called a Hall of Fame, after all), and Rampone held her position through one of the most competitive times in USWNT history. Keough gets the nod for his status on a legendary USMNT team and a storied career in coaching, too. He’s an architect.

Ultimately I went with… Keough, Chastain, Pierce-Rampone.

Midfielders

Walter Bahr
Michael Bradley
DaMarcus Beasley
Heather O’Reilly
Megan Rapinoe
Cobi Jones
Kristine Lilly
Carli Lloyd
Earnie Stewart
Julie Foudy
Tab Ramos
Claudio Reyna
David Beckham
John Harkes

First off, you have to include Lilly. She owns 354 caps and scored 130 goals, the latter of which is insane for a midfielder.

Now if you include Foudy, Rapinoe, Bahr, or Harkes — the latter’s omission perhaps the most egregious — you’ll have to exclude three absolute icons of the American men’s game.

Cobi Jones is the USMNT’s all-time caps leader, and his record is safe for some time. His iconic dreadlocks also just trump Alexi Lalas as the top look in U.S. Soccer (apologies to all the bald GKs and Bradley).

To me, Reyna and Bradley are similar players, generals, and trendsetters. Given the World Cup qualifying failure of the 2018 cycle, there’s a temptation to look past Bradley but that’s asinine. He’s got 140 caps, 17 goals, memorable goals at Azteca and in a qualifier’s qualifier against Costa Rica. And Donovan against Algeria doesn’t happen if Bradley doesn’t equalize against Slovenia. This doesn’t include his exploits at Roma, Gladbach, and Toronto FC. He’s really good.

Reyna won three NCAA championships under Bruce Arena at Virginia, earned 112 caps for the USMNT, and opened doors for Americans in Germany and Scotland (winning a double at the latter) in addition to becoming a fixture for Man City, making a World Cup Best XI, and winning the freaking Hermann Trophy.

All this leaves out Earnie Stewart and a two-time women’s World Player of the Year in Lloyd. Wow.

Ultimately I went with… Jones, Lilly, Reyna, Bradley.

Forwards

Landon Donovan
Carin Jennings-Gabarra
Tiffeny Milbrett
Abby Wambach
Cindy Parlow-Cone
Eric Wynalda
Alex Morgan
Michelle Akers
Jozy Altidore
Brian McBride
Clint Dempsey
Giorgio Chinaglia
Mia Hamm
Pele

This one feels reason enough to demand separate XIs for the USMNT and USWNT. In order to include a male, you need to ditch either Abby Wambach, Michelle Akers, or Mia Hamm. You have to exclude two of those to get both Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey on the XI!!

Hamm scored 158 goals (second all-time) and 145 assists (first) in 276 caps. Even given the investment in American women’s soccer compared the rest of the world, that’s absurd. Akers scored 107 times in just 155 caps. That’s insane. Wambach, as dominant as she was, doesn’t touch that.

Which pretty much brings us to Donovan or Dempsey (Sorry, Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride). For me, the level of success Dempsey found as a flame-holder for American soccer in England tips the scales for me. He’s scored the same amount of goals in 16 less caps, though Donovan torches him in assists. If you forced me to take Donovan over Dempsey, I wouldn’t put up much of a fight.

Ultimately I went with… Hamm, Dempsey, Akers

MLS 3 Things: Resurgent Zardes, Toronto up, New England down

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A busy Saturday in Major League Soccer sees three interesting results bolstering the story lines of the final few months of the season.

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1) Imagine a world with the reigning champs as your reward for finishing first.

With 14 matches to play, Toronto FC has Jozy Altidore back in the fold and has pulled to within eight points of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot after a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

Sebastian Giovinco looks like Sebastian Giovinco in scoring another outstanding goal, just his fifth of the season, while Jonathan Osorio also scored in the win.

Before you watch Seba’s goal, picture you’ve won the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now picture TFC as your semifinal reward.

2) New England is well and truly slumping

Brad Friedel‘s Revs are slipping after losing a third-straight league match, and New England has gained a solitary point since the calendar turned to July following a 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena.

Fourth through ninth in the East are separated by nine points, and New England is very much in that mix now. Friedel is certainly at the most trying time of his tenure.

Second half goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer did the trick for RBNY, who have claimed 15 of the last 18 points available to them (The lone blemish is the Hudson River Derby).

The Red Bulls are now 8-1-1 at home this season, while New England is 1-4-4 away from Foxboro.

3) Gyasi Zardes’ return to form is surprising and wonderful

Columbus has its second win since May 19, and will be feeling much better about itself following a 3-2 comeback win over Orlando City which included a pair of equalizers.

One of those came in the 88th minute, as Gyasi Zardes completed his brace by converting a penalty won by new arrival Patrick Mullins.

The Crew won late via a rare Wil Trapp goal — the USMNT midfielder has just two in 161 matches — but let’s focus on Zardes.

Zardes’ 13th goal of the season continues an amazing turnaround under striker whisperer Gregg Berhalter. It’s Zardes’ second double-digit season, and his first since 2014. He is firmly in frame for another USMNT look, this time as a center forward, but first there’s plenty to like about the big man.

U.S. Open Cup wrap: Louisville ousts Revs, DC dodges “Cupset”

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Three of eight Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fourth round matches are complete following Tuesday night action involving USL and MLS competition.

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Louisville City 3-2 New England Revolution

The USL hosts overcame a fifth minute concession and 26th minute own goal with a pair of equalizers, and took hold of its “Cupset” with a Brian Ownby 62nd minute marker.

Mark Segbers opened the scoring for New England before Oscar Jimenez leveled the tie. An own goal put Brad Friedel‘s men back on top, but Cameron Lancaster made it 2-2 in the 37th minute.

But Ownby’s goal, well, it was befitting of a big moment in the nascent life of Lou City.

DC United 1-1 North Carolina FC (NCFC wins in PKs)

Ian Harkes scored an Open Cup goal for the second successive season, but his first half goal was met in the second by Marios Lomis seven minutes from stoppage time.

The match went to penalty kicks after 120 minutes were in the books. David Ousted stopped NC’s second effort and the visitors his the cross bar with their fourth shot. Harkes then sent his chance to clinch it wide of the frame, but Bruno Miranda netted the fifth effort.

Philadelphia Union 5-0 Richmond Kickers

Philly built a 4-0 halftime lead, cruising to a win on the strength of five goal scorers: Jack Elliott, David Accam, Anthony Fontana, Marcus Epps, and Jay Simpson.

The Union lost consecutive finals in 2014 and 2015, and move on to another quarterfinal round.

Five honored with National Soccer Hall of Fame status

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Don Garber, Brad Friedel, Cindy Parlow Cone, Tiffeny Milbrett, and Robert Contiguglia have been announced in this year’s class of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

The induction will occur Oct. 20 as part of Hall of Fame weekend in Dallas, with FC Dallas facing Sporting KC.

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Friedel is the current coach of New England Revolution, who are off to a surprising start. The longtime Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper was capped 82 times by the USMNT in a playing career which also included time with Liverpool, Galatasaray, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, and Columbus Crew.

Parlow Cone scored 75 times in 158 USWNT caps, successfully transitioning to a coaching career which includes the 2013 NWSL title for the Portland Thorns.

Milbrett, 45, bagged 100 goals for the USWNT in 206 caps. She scored seven goals across three World Cups.

Contiguglia is a former USSF president who served from 1998-2006, a wildly successful time for the game.

MLSSoccer.com points out that current MLS commissioner Garber was elected in 2016, “but opted to defer his enshrinement” until the new Hall of Fame was completed in Dallas.