Coatesville’s Zack Steffen stands in the way of the Union’s quest for a playoff home game
If the Union want to jump over the Crew into fourth place, this game is nearly a must-win. That means scoring on their former youth prospect, which they've never done in Columbus before.
Toward the end of ESPN's broadcast of the U.S. Open Cup final, analyst Taylor Twellman noted that Union manager Jim Curtin is still on the same contract he signed when he was hired by former CEO Nick Sakiewicz.
On Saturday, the Union will be haunted by another ghost from that era when they visit the Columbus Crew (7:30 p.m., PHL17).
Coatesville-born goalkeeper Zack Steffen, a Union youth team prospect six years ago, will literally stand in the way as the Union seek their first home playoff game in seven years.
"It's massive," Steffen told the Inquirer and Daily News this week. "Philly's creeping up on us and they've been playing well."
Steffen is in stellar form these days for Columbus and the U.S. national team. But he remains humble about his success.
"I wouldn't say I've become the No. 1 goalkeeper just yet" for the national team, he said. "We're very young in our process … It's been going well, and I'm just focused on keeping the train running, working on being better each day and trying to have fun with it."
Steffen spoke highly of Earnie Stewart, the former Union sporting director who's now the U.S. men's team's general manager, and of the team's new era of young prospects.
"He's had a couple meetings with us, and wants us to be involved and wants to know what we want as players, and what he can do better to make everybody happy," Steffen said. "In turn, that will bring success, hopefully … It's been fun to be with the national team and this group of players, with their energy and willingness to learn and fight."
Steffen's success has brought new European interest. English second-division club Bristol City bid $3.9 million for him this summer. More offers will surely come, and he's ready for them.
"My goal is to go back over there [to Europe], whenever that time may come," he told the Inquirer and Daily News at the end of July.
He faces other off-the-field dramas too. The Crew, an original MLS team, seem likely to move to Austin, Texas after this year; and manager Gregg Berhalter is a top candidate to be the next U.S. coach.
Steffen is doing his best to block out the distractions.
"You're thinking about it when that stuff is going on and you're doing well," he said this week. "But your role as a professional is to keep that in the back of your mind and perform … The rest will fall into place as it should."
Union at Columbus Crew
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Union's record: 14-12-4, 46 points (5th in the East); 6-7-2 on the road
Columbus' record: 13-9-8, 47 points (4th in the East); 10-2-3 at home
Series history: Union 8 wins, Crew 12 wins, 2 ties
At Columbus: Union 2 wins, Crew 8 wins, 1 tie
Columbus players to watch
F Gyasi Zardes: He's still a straight-line runner with a poor first touch, but he sure can score if he's put in the right place. Crew manager Gregg Berhalter has done just that, and now Zardes has 16 goals this year.
M Federico Higuaín: The 33-year-old Argentine isn't at his peak anymore, but his five goals and eight assists this year show he's still dangerous.
GK Zack Steffen: The Coatesville native is in some of the best form of his career right now, with a 1.20 goals-against average and a solid grip on the U.S. national team's starting job.