What The Zack Steffen World Cup Snub Should Teach Young Goalkeepers

What The Zack Steffen World Cup Snub Should Teach Young Goalkeepers

Despite the fact that he was not a regular at Man City throughout his tenure there Zack Steffen seemed to be the chosen goalkeeper by Gregg Berhalter to stand between the sticks for the USA in the team’s return to the World Cup. He played virtually every single game with the team since this new regime took over after Bruce Arena’s massive failure which was not able to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Steffen seemed to embody the new generation of American talent. A young American player being part of one of the world’s top teams. Even though he was not a regular he was on Man City. 

Towards the final games of qualifying though something shifted in the mindset of head coach Gregg Berhalter. Granted around that time Zack Steffen was not having a great time at Man City. He had the misfortune of committing a massive error in one of the few games that he got a chance to play for the squad. Berhalter started to look elsewhere to try and find a better suitor for the US goal, and he essentially never looked back. Although Steffen played in the last 3 World Cup qualifiers he would not be called back to represent the United States in the last 6 months. Ultimately, him getting snubbed from the list was not necessarily a massive surprise. Why did this happen though? 

@zacksteffen_/ Instagram

Are There Good Reasons To Bench Steffen? 

Berhalter was asked directly why he had left Steffen off the team during the reveal show in which he announced the team. At first, he was kind of reluctant to dive deep into his reasons for not taking Steffen to the World Cup. Ultimately he would go on to mention that he expected more from Zack, and that he didn’t deliver. It’s not clear though what he was talking about when he mentioned that he expected more from Zack. It was widely speculated that he gave up his spot as the number 2 goalkeeper for Man City to go to Middlesbrough F.C. in the Championship to make the World Cup roster. 

At Middlesbrough F.C. he’s found the consistency that he did not have at City. Which essentially could lead people to believe that the situation between Berhalter and Steffen is a personal matter. One of the things that Hercules Gomez points out to Berhalter as he’s asking him about Steffen is that it was actually Berhalter who brought Steffen on as his first choice goalkeeper. Something that the previous regime had refused to do instead sticking with the old heads all throughout the failed qualifying campaign. I have a feeling that I’m going to be talking about this quite a bit in this article, but just like there aren’t necessarily too many valid reasons to keep Steffen from the roster he hasn’t necessarily done anything to stand out and force his way on it either. 

@headdturnerr/ Instagram

Could We Say That Matt Turner Is A Better Goalkeeper Than Zack Steffen? 

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that. Apparently though to be the starting goalkeeper for the USMNT you need to be a second choice goalkeeper on a good Premier League team. When Zack Steffen filled the role of the starter he was the second choice option at Man City. Now that Matt Turner is in that seat he’s the second choice goalkeeper at Arsenal. He’s only played 4 games all year, but you can’t argue that practices at Arsenal are potentially more intense than they are at Middlesbrough FC. That’s a joke of course, but it does go to show that sometimes coaches aren’t necessarily clear on what they want from their goalkeepers. 

Picking between Steffen and Turner is tough, particularly because they are very similar goalkeepers. If I had to make a pick between the two I would still go Steffen just because I feel that he’s also mainly a between the sticks goalkeeper, but he’s got a little more confidence with his feet. Also, he plays basically between the sticks, but Matt Turner is one of those goalkeepers that’s going to get hurt real bad if the cross bar ever falls from the goal. Meaning Matt Turner plays literally on the line. I’ve probably not seen a goalkeeper play so far back in a long time. Turner is coming into the tournament with only 4 club games played to Zack Steffen’s 17. 

Zack Steffen playing for USA in Costa Rica
@zacksteffen_ / Instagram

The Teaching Point For Young Goalkeepers

You’re going to make decisions on the field and off the field that are going to potentially determine your future in both instances. Even when you make a decision with good intentions there’s a chance that things are not going to work out in your favor. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s one that essentially comes at you, and you have no control over. Why do I say this in regard to Zack Steffen? It’s pretty simple, I feel that he made the move to Middlesbrough F.C. thinking that more playing time could guarantee him a spot on the World Cup roster. At the same time he’s not necessarily the youngest player out there anymore. It’s certainly commendable that he took the risk of going down to the Championship to play.  

Regardless of what his World Cup hopes happened to be, the move was made to ensure that he had a more active career. There are a lot of goalkeepers like Sergio Romero from Argentina for example who had a very lucrative career as a back-up. For some goalkeepers though it’s ok to maybe take a step back from the major clubs to ensure that you get some playing time. That teaching point is one that I feel can’t be overlooked because it applies to all levels of play. I would rather play on a bad team, but actually get a chance to play, rather than ride the bench for a good team. For younger keepers this is always going to be preferable, particularly if you’re not making money from playing. 

@USMNT / Instagram

Coaches Are Weird People  

Literally Gregg Berhalter said that he expected more from Zack Steffen. However, he didn’t elaborate as to what “more” meant. This leads me to believe that it was more of a personal issue than anything else. I took a look at the last outing by Zack Steffen with the USMNT which was the game that the team lost in Costa Rica to end the qualifying round. Was he at his best in the outing? No, he was kind of shaky, but I don’t think that it was a performance where you could argue that he deserved to just be kicked off the squad. The first goal that he concedes is a well taken corner and a header that’s hit from too close to be able to react favorably. One of those plays where if you make the save that’s great if you don’t you can’t necessarily be blamed for it.  

In the second goal it’s a weird play in which he comes out and makes a deflection, but the ball is loose in the box, and a couple of wrong bounces later a Costa Rica player puts the ball into a seemingly empty net. Again, could he have been more decisive on that play? Sure, the argument is valid, but it’s not a play where he would’ve ended up on a blooper reel or anything like that. This for me proves the point that it’s a personal issue with Berhalter. That’s going to happen in goalkeeping. You need to build confidence with the coach to get them to put you on the field. Sometimes you can lose it without necessarily making dreadful mistakes. Coaches are weird like that. It’s also true that many of them have no sense for what good goalkeeping is, so they go off feel!    

Zack Steffen celebrating the USA World Cup qualification
zacksteffen_/ Instagram

Ultimately Will The USMNT Miss Zach Steffen At The World Cup?  

I would say just because I don’t think it’s fair to Matt Turner either way. The only real way that we could point out that Berhalter made the wrong decision is if Turner has an awful World Cup. It’s not like with field players where you could say even if the team does well there was a moment here where you could’ve used so and so because of their speed, ability or whatever it may be. With goalkeepers if Turner makes a mistake there is no guarantee that Steffen in that same situation would have handled things better. It is odd to think though that Turner has only played 4 club games in 6 months, and he’s being asked to play 3 within a week and half, and then maybe more. This is where lack of playing time can show!   

If I was the national team head coach would I have taken Steffen? I probably would have just based on the fact that I feel at this point Zack brings more to the table. Turner can be great between the sticks, but he’s got that problem that a lot of the goalkeepers that are good between the sticks. That is, that they will stay between the sticks and almost negate the other aspects of the game. This is my criticism of Ochoa, and Acevedo. If you’re a regular here, you’ll also know I consider myself a between the sticks’ keeper, so it’s a criticism of myself as well! You can take Zack’s main blunder with his feet at Man City and point to that as evidence that he has a problem playing with his feet as well, but I just don’t think that’s the case!