Former University of Maryland goalie Zack Steffen spoke to Glenn Clark Radio about his recent performance for the United States men’s national team in a friendly against France, in which Steffen recorded several impressive saves during a 1-1 tie against a French team considered a favorite in the World Cup.
Steffen said the game was a chance to establish himself with the national team.
“That’s the kind of feeling you want to have when you’re out there on the field,” Steffen said. ” … You want to go on the field and kind of make it your own. That’s your goal. And I feel like when I was out there, besides the first 10-15 minutes where there’s nerves, I would say I felt good out there. It was a lot of fun, and it was an honor.”
Steffen, 23, played under head coach Sasho Cirovski at Maryland from 2013-2014 and now plays for the Columbus Crew, where put together one of the longest shutout streaks in MLS history. From April 28-June 13, Steffen didn’t allow a goal in five matches.
Steffen, 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, said his time with Columbus presents a platform to earning opportunities with the national team.
“The national team’s obviously in the back of your head,” Steffen said. “But you got to be focusing on club because that’s what’s going to get you to the national team — play and perform at a good level and at your highest level with your club, and that’ll, in turn, get you to the national team.”
Cirovski spoke highly of Steffen, even going as far to say he could be as good as longtime goalie Tim Howard, who has been a regular with the national team since 2002.
“I think he has the potential to become one of our [country’s] elite goalkeepers — in the class of Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller,” Cirovski said. “I felt that when I recruited him to Maryland, and now I’m starting to see him emerge into that type of goalkeeper. Athletically, he’s gifted. His mentality and maturity have really grown. I think he’s got all the qualities to play at the very highest level, and I suspect that within the next months and years that he’s going to have some opportunities to play in some of the biggest clubs in the world.”
Steffen also spoke highly of Cirovski, along with his time at Maryland.
“Sasho is a coach I’ll never forget,” Steffen said. “What he asks of his players and demands of his players is why Maryland has such a prestigious soccer history. When I got there, I took to him right away, and I just kind of bought into everything he was saying. And he was a good mentor for me for two years. I hope what he said comes true, but he’s a great guy and great coach, and he loves all his players with so much passion. It’s motivational.”
Steffen left Maryland after two seasons to play for German professional team SC Freiburg in December 2014. He made 14 appearances for Freiburg’s reserve team, SC Freiburg II, but never saw action for the first team. He returned to the U.S. in 2016, joining Columbus.
Steffen said he grew as a player while in Germany, but he’s glad to be playing in the U.S. again.
“I became a better player on the field, and I learned about myself off the field. I became a better professional,” Steffen said of his time in Germany. “And then coming back to the MLS, I was excited to come back to the states and have my family and my friends able to live my life with me. So I’m happy where I am.”
After several years with the national teams at the youth level, Steffen made his senior debut in January.
While the national team is obviously disappointed to be missing the World Cup — the U.S. failed to qualify for the first time since 1986 — Steffen said the opportunity he’s receiving to play with the team now is valuable. Against France June 9, Steffen recorded seven saves, allowing just one goal.
“It was a big moment,” Steffen said of the game against France. “It’s unfortunate that we’re not in the World Cup right now … but it’s given us young guys a chance to show our colors.”
While the U.S. is sidelined for the 2018 World Cup, FIFA recently announced that the 2026 World Cup will be played in the United States. With Baltimore and D.C. both vying for bids to host a game, Steffen could get the opportunity to play in front of a large crowd of Terps fans — something he said would be very special.
“Yeah for sure — only time will tell,” he said.
For more from Steffen, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Daniel Herlensky/Crew SC Communications