CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Though he’s the youngest of the four goalkeepers in January’s US men’s national team camp, Zack Steffen has as many caps as the other three teammates in his position combined.
In fact, apart from veteran international stalwart Brad Guzan — the Atlanta United netminder who is 11-years Steffen’s senior and has appeared in 10 times as many USMNT matches — only D.C. United’s Bill Hamid has spent as much time in the US net among recent call-ups.
Add that to the fact that his club coach for the last three seasons — Gregg Berhalter — recently took the helm of the US squad and it’s tough not to see Steffen as the favorite to start for his country at this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup, the first major competition since failing to qualify for World Cup 2018.
But what does the player himself think he needs to land that coveted spot and hang onto it?
“It’s going to take a lot of leadership,” Steffen told MLSsoccer.com after Wednesday’s training. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work. I’m going to have to push the guys, demand a lot from myself, demand a lot from the guys in front of me, and really cement myself as a leader for this team.”
One way he’s already done that in the three short days of January camp at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center is by cluing his teammates into Berhalter’s system.
“I definitely have seen a lot of it before, so I’m able to help some guys, communicate from the back and give them some tips to help them with the new movements,” Steffen said. “Because it’s a lot of information he’s giving us in the first couple days, but it is second nature for me to just talk to my defense and my midfield and help the guys out.”
Just two days after the Gold Cup final comes the 23-year-old’s second big career opportunity of summer 2019: a transfer to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
“We have a plan, but it’s not set in stone,” the goalkeeper said when asked if he’d been in touch with both Crew SC and the Citizens over how the transfer would proceed. “It’s obviously nerve racking. It’s a step up. It’s going across the pond, but it’s also what I’ve been working for the past couple years and it’s a dream to become a part of such a big club and have the opportunity.”
Though Steffen wouldn’t get into too much detail about what the plan entails, he did suggest that part of the reason it isn’t yet completely solidified has to do with gaining a work permit, a part of the transfer process to the UK that can often add complication.
“I don’t think that will get settled until closer to when I go over there,” Steffen said, aware that a starting place with the national team can make the bureaucratic side of that work permit process much easier.
For now, though, his attention is stateside.
“I’m just focusing on this camp, then getting back to Columbus and trying to get as much as I can from Columbus, from those games, from training and push the guys back in Columbus to make them better and make myself better to give myself as good of a chance to succeed over there,” Steffen said.