The summer is rolling on, and so is our series investigating potential Everton transfer targets currently playing in MLS. This week, we’ll look at a player who recently returned to the United States from Europe — Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
The 22-year-old spent two years at the University of Maryland before moving to SC Freiburg of the Bundesliga in 2014. He returned to MLS with the Crew in 2016, and has performed admirably for Columbus in a starting role this season.
In an April interview with the Columbus Dispatch, Crew SC manager Gregg Berhalter put a particular focus on Steffen’s big-save ability and his continually expanding mental toughness.
At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Steffen has the size and reach to extend to block shots other keepers would struggle with — not to mention an impressive athletic ability to go along with that size. Check out some of his top saves from his time at Freiburg II and with United States youth sides.
Berhalter was very complimentary of Steffen’s growth in the mental side of his game this preseason, particularly as it related to overcoming mistakes.
Once he performed in (a 2-1 preseason win over Atlanta days before the season began), then it’s a completely different situation because then you see he can react to mistakes, he can hang in there mentally, he can deal with pressure, all that stuff.
At only 22, Steffen does lack experience to an extent. His only professional experience coming into this MLS season was 14 matches with Freiburg’s reserve team (in the fourth tier of German football) and nine matches with Columbus’ USL affiliate, the Pittsbhurgh Riverhouds (second tier of USA soccer).
He has played 90 minutes in all of Columbus’ 17 MLS matches this season, however.
His play in MLS this season has been strong enough to potentially displace Maarten Stekelenburg or Joel Robles as Everton’s backup keeper for the upcoming season. He would, at the very least, likely be a step up from current U-23 keeper Mateusz Hewelt, who has no experience playing for a senior squad at any level.
He won’t challenge Jordan Pickford for the starting role any time soon (or ever, likely) but given his youth, it isn’t at all unreasonable to hope that he would develop into a solid second-string keeper on a European club — one who could fill in during cup matches and Europa League matches against lesser opposition.
Steffen only fits if Everton is looking to move on from both Joel and Stekelenburg — or both players want to move on to find more playing time. If that’s the case though, the Toffees will need a new backup keeper, unless they’re comfortable with Hewelt as the team’s only cover in goal.
With Europa League competition in play this season, there will be more opportunities for keeper rotation, meaning Steffen (or any other backup) could easily play 5-10 matches in all competitions if Ronald Koeman wanted to go that route.
Likelihood of Move
This is where things hit a bit of a snag. Steffen sought out a move back to the United States both to secure more frequent playing time and to be closer to home — Everton can’t provide him either of those things.
As noted above, he could easily play 5-10 matches, or even more, given Everton’s Europa League involvement, but that won’t replace playing week to week with Crew SC.
Steffen’s backup in Columbus, Brad Stuver, nearly won the starting job going into the season, so Berhalter and co. would likely be comfortable having him as the starter if a reasonable offer for Steffen came in. But, it doesn’t seem likely that the player would want to leave at this stage — so Everton will have to keep an eye on the Pennsylvania native over the next season to determine if long-term interest might be worthwhile.