ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The time has come for Zack Steffen to step all the way into the spotlight.
After rising through the U.S. national team’s youth and senior teams — and after a rise through the club ranks that started in the Union’s academy — the 24-year-old Coatesville native officially takes over the mantle as the U.S. men’s soccer team’s No. 1 goalkeeper this summer.
He also makes a much-anticipated, big-money move to Europe. Manchester City paid a transfer fee reportedly between $7.5 million and $10 million last December to acquire him from the Columbus Crew, then let him stay in Columbus until now. He will head overseas after the upcoming Concacaf Gold Cup, reportedly beginning his time abroad with a loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf of Germany’s Bundesliga
It all begins Wednesday night, when the U.S. men play Jamaica in Washington (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1 and UniMás) in the first of two Gold Cup warmup games.
“There’s more pressure and more expectations, and it’s got to be a higher focus level, harder work rate,” Steffen said after Tuesday’s practice on a sun-splashed field at the U.S. Naval Academy, with Midshipmen watching from boats anchored in the Severn River. “Just got to take it a notch further, and I’m ready for it.”
He vividly recalls the period of time last autumn when he contemplated the ramifications of Manchester City offering such a big sum.
“It was a really surreal couple of weeks when it all went down,” he said.
Steffen also remembers what it was like the first time he sought his fortune abroad. Three years ago, he left the University of Maryland midway through his sophomore year to take an offer from German club Freiburg. It didn’t work out, and he returned to America in the summer of 2016 to sign with Columbus.
“I’ve grown up on the field and off the field a lot, I’ve matured a lot,” he said. “Back then, it was more of taking a risk and going to explore the world and seeing what Europe’s like, and taking a challenge. Now, this is what I want 100 percent, this is what I need to better myself on the field and off the field, and to grow and to make the sport better here in America.”
U.S. national team coach Gregg Berhalter, who managed Steffen in Columbus before taking his current job, is certain that his player is ready for the moment.