USMNT: Mixed feelings about contract extension for Zack Steffen

COLUMBUS, OHIO - OCTOBER 13: Zack Steffen #13 of the United States prepares for a shot on goal during the second half of a 2022 World Cup Qualifying match against Costa Rica at Field on October 13, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OHIO - OCTOBER 13: Zack Steffen #13 of the United States prepares for a shot on goal during the second half of a 2022 World Cup Qualifying match against Costa Rica at Field on October 13, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

On November 4, Manchester City FC announced they signed USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen to a contract extension.  The new contract will keep him at the club until 2025.  Originally, the 26 year old joined the blue side of Manchester back in 2019 on a four year deal.  Hence, this new contract extends his time with the Premier League side for another two years.

In Steffen’s first season, he was sent out on loan to Fortuna Düsseldorf in the Bundesliga.  Despite the struggles of the eventually relegated German side, the American did well behind the sticks before suffering a knee injury midseason.  Nonetheless, his production led him to be named the backup goalkeeper to Ederson last season.  He continues that role today, thus finding playing time scarce.

However, that does not deter Steffen.  The goalkeeper told that he wants “to keep pushing Ederson every single day”.  He also understands his current role, and will take the “chances when they arrive”.

Clearly, Steffen sees his future with the club, and is committed to furthering his development in Manchester.  He is with a top Premier League side, and possibly one of the best in the world.  Plus, he is learning from what many would deem as one of the best managers in the world, Pep Guardiola.  He can then take what he learns, and bring the knowledge behind the sticks for the USMNT.

The new contract for Zack Steffen is great, but not from a USMNT perspective

At the same time, the big issue for Zack Steffen is the lack of playing time he will find with Manchester City.  Less opportunities for minutes leads to less time for development and improving his craft.  Therefore, his playing ability can suffer from the lack of game time, and lead to difficulty in competing for the USMNT goalkeeper spot.

That’s not to say that he would be the first choice goalkeeper, even with regular playing time.  Matt Turner of the New England Revolution has been playing at a high level and equally deserves the opportunities he gets for the USMNT.  Both he and Steffen have different weaknesses and strengths, and should be competing with one another in every national camp.

But from the perspective of Steffen, the contract extension means he will not play many games throughout the season.  Turner gets regular playing time, since he is the starting goalkeeper for the Revolution, and has that advantage over him.  Yes, Steffen is a part of a top European side, but again, he needs to have consistent playing time in order to stay at a highly competitive level, and continue to develop.

Additionally, that lack of playing time at a club level can see Steffen’s caps as a USMNT goalkeeper decline.  Lack of regular playing time can be used as a deciding factor when it comes to choosing who will play in goal during the international window.  As always, the best goalkeeper should be the first choice for the USMNT, and Steffen always has to compete, whether he plays frequently with his club, or he is on the bench.

Not playing all the time though will not help the American’s case.  He needs minutes under his belt, as does every play that plays for their national team.  And make no doubt that Steffen has the talent and ability to solidify, or even split, the starting goalkeeper role with the USMNT.  He plays well with the ball at his feet, and in 24 national team appearances, has 10 clean sheets.

Furthermore, having both Turner and Steffen on the same level, where both play regularly and are equally deserving of playing as USMNT’s first choice keeper, is beneficial for the USMNT.  It would drive the competition between the two, and cause both to strive to an even higher level.  Also, if one of them is injured, then the USMNT would know they do not have to worry since either would be a top choice.

On some level, Zack Steffen is unmistakably talented enough where he is a Manchester City player, and based on the team, coaching staff, and resources, makes sense why he extended his contract.  Yet, he can be hurting his chances to seal the starting goalkeeper role for the USMNT due to lack of playing time.

Alas, only time will tell.  Maybe this is just overthinking, and Steffen will still be able to compete with Turner without any downside from not playing regularly.  USMNT fans cannot help but wonder whether this contract extension was truly the right move for Steffen, both personally for him, and from the national team perspective.