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Zack Steffen’s proposed move to Manchester City is a good, but complex, move for MLS


On the surface, the potential deal for Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen to head to Manchester City in January seems like a good move for all parties.

But once you wipe away the glimmer of the English Premier League and unravel the possible transfer more, the finest details would be very complex, and they could drag out into a saga no one wants to deal with.

Things aren’t too complicated when it comes to potential playing and training time. Since becoming the full-time starter in goal at the start of 2017, Steffen’s established himself as one of the best players at his position and he’s the frontrunner to take over the U.S. Men’s National Team’s No. 1 shirt on a permanent basis.

For Steffen, a move to England is a great next step in his career, especially since few players get a chance to prove themselves for a second time in Europe at his young age for such a high price tag.

In the ideal situation for Steffen, he’d be used as the backup to Ederson with Claudio Bravo still recovering from an injury.

Being seldom used in a Carabao Cup or FA Cup game while training under Pep Guardiola’s guidance every day isn’t a bad deal for Steffen in the first five months of his move back overseas, but there are concerns about that actually happening.

Because of the United Kingdom’s strict work permit laws, Steffen might be forced to go on loan.

Ligue 1 side Nice, where former New York City FC manager Patrick Vieira is employed, and Manchester City partner club Girona have been mentioned as possible loan destinations. NAC Breda in the Eredivisie is another potential landing spot, as that’s where City have sent American defender Erik Palmer-Brown for a loan spell.

Nice and Girona are currently seventh in their respective leagues, while NAC Breda would be a much more difficult situation to enter in, as they sit at the bottom of the Dutch first division.

While there’s faith in the best decision being made for Steffen to play as soon as possible things get complicated once we look into the finances. Thanks to the unclear outlook of the Crew’s ownership situation, there’s a lack of trust in who will collect the large transfer fee.

For the Crew and Major League Soccer to bring in a $7-10 million haul for a goalkeeper that returned home from Germany and was on loan in the USL for the end of the 2016 season is quite the impressive deal.

Due to the complex ownership situation in Columbus, it’s unclear if the transfer fee would be distributed to Anthony Precourt as he moves his intentions toward Austin, or if the incoming ownership group that hasn’t been approved by MLS yet will keep the money.

If it’s Precourt who ends up with the transfer haul, it would be a blow across the chest for Crew fans who thought they finally rid themselves of the poison that ravaged their franchise for the last few years.

Since this is an unprecedented situation, the parties involved would have to meet with the league on how to handle the situation, and it might not be figured out right away.

Then there’s the impact beyond the club level, as Steffen will be either training every day or playing from January to May, which will keep him fresh for the start of the USMNT’s 2019 slate.

Obviously a move to Europe would take Steffen out of the annual January camp, so a March return to the USMNT would make sense.

With Ethan Horvath starting to round into form with Club Brugge, Steffen must stay fresh in order to enter the first full camp under the new manager as the favorite to claim the No. 1 shirt.

Once the complexities of the situation are worked out, the deal will most likely go down as a success given Steffen’s trajectory over the last two seasons, but it may take a while before we’re ready to praise the entire deal.


  1. What is $7-10 million going to do for Columbus? They have to replace him still. It will be a good move if they replace him with an upgraded team. This isn’t some joke team in Europe that isn’t going to win any anyone’s lifetime. They still have to win.

  2. Wouldn’t the fee be contractually owed to the club that employs him (i.e., the Crew, not Precourt, it’s owner)? And if Precourt decides to transfer that money to himself, which presumably he has the power to do, wouldn’t the purchase price for club simply be reduced accordingly?

  3. does anyone remember Mix Diskerud? get him on a team more concerned with playing him and less concerned with selling shirts or holding an asset.

    • Mix’s career trajectory was on a downward slope well before he was signed by city. He probably rose higher than his level due to continued call ups from Klinsmann. Also, isn’t he back playing first team games somewhere?
      Not disputing that City sees Steffen as an asset to gain relevance in the US and possibly resell at profit, but that doesn’t mean Steffen won’t win with this deal too. Whether in cup games or on loan he will get his chance to prove his worth. Having Manchester City as his employer will give instantly more credibility in Europe over Columbus Crew and could open even more doors.
      It’s not an ideal situation in my view, but Steffen should jump at this opportunity.

    • Mix’s deal was to clear the contract space from NYCFC’s books. I do question Steffen’s ability to get a work permit as he has not played in enough national team matches, but ManCity has a much better idea if he’ll qualify than I do. Their third keeper Muric has played less than a handful of professional matches and with Man City’s heavy schedule they are likely looking for a more experienced keeper in the short term. Steffen is unlikely to beat out Ederson, but to compare his possible situation to Diskerud is apples and oranges.


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