This is the type of extended homecoming that Zack Steffen was hoping for. The Maryland goalie will be concluding his freshman soccer season by playing in the College Cup championship game against Notre Dame at 3 p.m. Sunday at PPL Park in Chester.
Not only is Steffen a graduate of Downingtown West, but he is a product of the Union youth academy.
He estimates that 20 to 30 friends and family members were at the 2-1 semifinal win Friday over rival Virginia. Steffen said even more local supporters will be there Sunday.
"Having all my friends and family come out to the game was very special," Steffen said. "Living 40 minutes away and having played here and coming to a lot of Union games, it was special."
Who knows if Maryland would have been there Sunday had Steffen not made an outstanding diving save in the 88th minute on a blast by Virginia's Brian James?
"I wasn't sure if the shooter was going to open up his hips, go far post, so I stood my ground," said Steffen, who allowed the one Virginia goal on a penalty kick and made five saves. "He ended up closing his hips, so I dove and made the save."
That save was another indication of why the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Steffen is considered one of the bright young stars in college soccer.
"Zack Steffen came up with a save at the end of the game that very few keepers can make," Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said.
The veteran Maryland coach then expanded on the performance of Steffen, who has played every minute in goal for the Terrapins and owns eight shutouts and a 1.16 goals-against average.
"There are very few goaltenders in the country that can do the things he can do," Cirovski said. "He still has a long way to go, but he is a special person, a special goalkeeper."
Against an explosive Notre Dame team that has scored 12 goals in its four NCAA tournament games, Steffen will be a major factor in the Terrapins' quest to win their first NCAA title since 2008.
NCAA College Cup Final
Who: No. 3 seed Notre Dame (16-1-6) vs. No. 5 seed Maryland (17-3-5)
When: Sunday at 3 p.m.
Where: PPL Park, Chester
How Notre Dame got here: The Fighting Irish defeated New Mexico in the semifinals, 2-0. Before that, Notre Dame had three NCAA tournament wins at home, defeating Wisconsin, 4-0; Wake Forest, 4-2; and Michigan State, 2-1.
How Maryland got here: The Terrapins defeated ACC rival Virginia, 2-1, in the semifinals. Maryland began the tournament with home wins over Providence, 3-1, and UC-Irvine, 1-0, and then earned a 1-0 quarterfinal victory at California.
This season: On Oct. 8, the two teams played to a 1-1 draw at Notre Dame.
NCAA titles: Notre Dame is seeking its first title. Maryland won in 1968, 2005, and 2008.
Outlook: This should be as evenly matched as the regular-season meeting. Both teams are led by first-team all-American forwards, Maryland's Patrick Mullins and Notre Dame's Harrison Shipp, who both came up big in the semifinals. Mullins had both goals for Maryland, giving him an NCAA-leading 18 on the season. Shipp provided two assists and now has 12 goals and 10 assists.
Notre Dame's Patrick Hodan has scored goals in six consecutive games and has 11 after getting both in the semifinal win.
Fighting Irish keeper Patrick Wall has nine shutouts while Maryland's freshman goalie, Zack Steffen (Downingtown West), has played every game for the Terps and has recorded eight shutouts.
- Marc Narducci