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Zack Steffen: USMNT doesn’t have an identity right now


The U.S. Men’s National Team is a work in progress right now. Zack Steffen firmly believes so, anyway.

Steffen recently did an interview with ESPNFC in which he made it clear that he thinks the USMNT still has a long way to go before becoming the team it hopes to be. The No. 1 goalkeeper touched on the group’s relative youth and lack of seasoning, all while adding that the Americans are missing one key ingredient that most successful national teams boast.

“We don’t have an identity right now,” Steffen told ESPNFC. “We are very young and inexperienced and immature in the international soccer world right now and we are trying to find our feet, we are trying to find leadership, we are trying to find our playing style.

“It is so weird because it is a national team so you get guys from everywhere and there is always guys hanging around that are older, but three quarters of this team is new so it is a weird time because we are trying to build a camaraderie and brotherhood and do all these things. It is a process, though. It takes time. It is tough. It is not easy.”

Speaking of taking time, Steffen also expressed his displeasure at how long the U.S. Soccer Federation took to appoint Gregg Berhalter as the USMNT head coach. Steffen said he “100 percent” thought the Americans lost a year while the federation conducted its lengthy managerial search, and made it clear he was not thrilled by that.

“I wasn’t happy with how we just kind of pushed off the head coach and all that stuff, but I know it’s not as easy as, ‘We let go of him. We’re going to get him the next hour,” said Steffen, who was injured this week while training with his club. “At the same time, 13 months, that is way too long. It just makes no sense. For us players, we didn’t like it. It was pretty much we just go out there and have fun and compete.

“We didn’t really have a system, we didn’t have very many details or directions. It was weird. … Everybody knew that a whole new coaching staff was eventually going to come in. We were just biding our time and, not going through the motions, but it was just more fun than business and serious like it is now.”


  1. the “lunch pail versus pretty” presentation is a false dialectic. there are plenty of highly successful soccer teams like Germany and Italy that combine the two. what they run afoul of is some Dutch obsessives want this to be Clockwork Orange, pretty for pretty’s sake. this pretty soccer urge got repackaged as the solution to our performance plateau. problem is Holland has never won a world cup. and i still believe in the practicality that any system put in to replace defensive counter soccer needs to be held to account to achieve better results than the quarter round we made with counter soccer. it is easy to “say” prettier passing soccer is the road to more success. i have thus far seen no natural affection for the new system and middling results. particularly when you are trying to rewire our players to play differently, as adults, the onus should be on the people asking for changes to show results. there has to be payoff because i am not interested in either “pretty but losing” or ” trying to be pretty and it won’t take,” even if those efforts might satisfy aestheticians. i want to win.

    • this needs to be an explicit experiment with a definite deadline and metrics of success by that deadline. or even interim milestones. if we miss the tournament for a second time, experiment over. if we can’t win one of the next gold cups, experiment over. if we can’t advance from group in qatar, experiment over. otherwise this starts to become an open ended aesthetic push with no accountability for coach or system. if the coach or system are so good for us, they should already be looking good and producing results. nope. that’s enough for me. but if we indulge, ok, they need to look good and produce results by some date. otherwise this is just a power play with zero accountability.

      • i mean the fact we are all but conceding mexico’s status as top dog right now suggests the system is not some secret sauce. we haven’t won a mexico game under GB. we did under Sarachan playing more cynical soccer. to me i judge system by results. if this is worth our time it should reverse the mexico dynamic and shoot us in the stratosphere. otherwise…….

      • Beating Mexico’s domestic based side in 2018 doesn’t signal Sarachan’s tactics were better the only reason we scored was because Mexico went down a man. 1/3 of the starters haven’t played for Mexico since that night and only 3 of the starters saw anytime during the GC. That our B+ team defeated their C team is meaningless.
        As far as your metrics yes if we don’t qualify that would signal need for change. Not getting out of the group is too high in general based on the draw process the US is never one of the top two ranked teams in its pool. If we get drawn with Qatar, a Euro, and an Asian team maybe I’d agree but in reality we are usually underdogs to advance. We never win GCs if Nexico sends an A/A- squad. It’s hard to tell how they calendar will change but without the Confed Cup to draw away Mexico’s A team it will be hard to beat them in a NFL stadium 75% full of pro Mexico fans.

  2. I agree 100%
    One thing though, the locked in starters will provide the identity. And there are two for sure. CP and you. Zach you are one of them. Get it done, cause I don’t see Christian Pulisic doing it.
    YOU ARE THE IDENTITY! Make it happen

    • the normal approach to such things is not to take adults and try and rewire how they play soccer, but to adopt a system suited to how they already play and were taught. normally if you want to change how players play you find them at age 5 and start over. i might even accept a bifurcated process where we played tougher as adults but taught the kids to be slicker. but normally tactics are adopted to maximize what is on hand rather than force a change. you don’t normally fight your talent pool. if the pool says we don’t have an identity they are saying the system has not yet taken.

      • What is this national style then? Hit long balls to the tall athletic rich kid? Who in our pool plays 4-4-2 sit deep and counter that US played for so many years? England is changing their style of play because playing direct doesn’t work anymore so your premise that no one does this is false.

  3. So much for ‘taking out time’ with everything. That’s over qualifying just around the corner and I though and hoped we’d be miles ahead of where we are now. But yay Berhalter and SUM!! Y’all are amazingly great for our NT

  4. “We need a little humility and modesty at the table. Unfortunately we have a little too much ‘Mr. I Know Everything’, ‘Mr. Arrogance’, ‘Mr. Obnoxious’, ‘Mr. Loud’, and when those get together nothing happens.”……By Claudio Reyna
    Back in the day you knew who the starters were….you might not like them, but you knew who they were and you knew what they had. Everything was a grind, we fought for every inch and played like we had something to prove. Speed, some skill, some ball control, athleticism, grit etc everyone knew what our players brought to the table and yet in the end we had that underdog mentality always trying to punch above our weight class.

    Now we feel like “we have arrived”. Like we are really that good, that “we shouldn’t even worry about the minnows of CONCACAF any more” kind of good. Our approach and our behavior, from a perspective of coaching, players, to everything in between, is just wrong, We’re far too arrogant and feel like we KNOW the game when in fact we have no clue. Our coaches are trying to “create their own fancy style of play” when they themselves are not top tier coaches, do not have top tier players to work with and their tactics haven’t been top tier tested or proven at a high level.

    Somehow USSoccer has lost that fighting mentality, were every player put in the work, fought for each other, bled for each other and rallied around each other. Presently, our approach to the game is very egotistical…..for a team that has never won anything or done anything on the world stage. Qualifying AND MAKING AN IMPACT in a World Cup isn’t just a short tournament…..It’s a two-year, 16-game grind (which is about half a league season) that asks questions, tests depth and resilience and exposes flaws, both personal and systemic…..and USMNT lacks in most of those areas. To summarize our arrogance:
    “Coaching is coaching. No one in Europe knows anything more about soccer than we do.” – by Bruce Arena

    • Anytime you have a major roster overhaul you’ll have this “loss of identity”, that’s the lost generation’s fault it’s why we need so many kids right now the 26-30 year olds aren’t there.
      Injuries have hampered it as well, Adams is a guy that’s a natural leader that could step in but he’s been largely out and really doesn’t have experience in first team Concacaf setting. Brooks would also provide it but he’s been missing too.
      As far as we don’t have quality players to play a technical style. A first choice group would include Steffen (Bundesliga), Brooks (Bundesliga), Long (MLS almost move to EPL) Dest (Eredivisie), Yedlin (EPL), Adams(Bundesliga), McKennie (Bundesliga), Pulisic (EPL), Weah (Ligue 1), Reyna (Bundesliga), Altidore (former EPL,Eredivisie, La Liga) plus others in top leagues or with heavy rumors of upcoming transfers. The talent is there. This team is being built for 2026, so is there some growing pains sure but it’s far from the disaster it was three years ago.
      Against Concacaf opponents not named Mexico, Berhalter is 11-2. The friendly with our C Team against Jamaica’s first team and the match in Toronto. A match a month later we turned into a 3-1 victory.
      Qualifying is now 10 games not 16. I think it will probably be less than that because of Covid as well. Don’t see qualifying starting in September.

      • “We don’t have an identity right now,” Steffen told ESPNFC. “We are very young and inexperienced and immature in the international soccer world right now and we are trying to find our feet, we are trying to find leadership, we are trying to find our playing style.” It looks like he’s saying youth is part of the problem.

    • I’ve heard this idea that the US needs to get back to the lunch pail, bleed for the shirt, just play harder than the other team idea a lot. This idea isn’t mutually exclusive, play harder is a culture idea, Berhalter’s plan to create possession based soccer is a style, within that Berhalter has used different tactics to implement that possession and create chances. Berhalter was with NT from ‘94-‘O6 he knows the value of those culture ideas. Look at 2009 Confed Cup that team worked hard, probably exemplified the American Soccer ideal more than any group. First match vs Italy, 1-0 halftime but when a better quality opponent turned up their tempo we couldn’t outwork them and wore down losing 1-3. Brazil came to play and built a 2-0 lead after 20, now a team designed to counter has no chance to make it up 0-3. Game 3 a weaker opponent more skill better work rate 3-0 plus help gets us in semis. Came out strong against Spain early goal forces Spain somewhat out of their game won 2-0. Final up 2-0 at half couldn’t outwork the motivated better squad lost 3-2. In that tournament we played four matches against more skilled squads and went 1-3 with the defend and counter strategy that will never ever get us past the quarters and will perpetually have us scrambling to get out of the group stage and make it a struggle to qualify each time. We have to be able to both out work teams and posses the ball to have a realistic chance of ever competing. We have the most players in top leagues and systems in Europe that we’ve ever had if now isn’t the time make that transition in style it never will be.

      • “I’ve heard this idea that the US needs to get back to the lunch pail, bleed for the shirt, just play harder than the other team”…..haha, and you will continue to hear it.

        The culture is weak, lacks urgency, self motivation and drive…..the exact reason we got knocked out of a WQ by a bottom feeder. It’s not all on the players but on the coaching staff too. You cannot field a Michael Bradley or Will Trapp and expect to boss anyone or control any game (Klinsmann – failed, Arena – Failed, GB – will Fail). You cannot field a Jozy Altidore and expect a striker who is clutch, resilient and chases down the opposition, intercepts passes and dribbles to score (Klinsmann – failed, Arena – Failed, GB – will Fail) etc. We have created a culture that praises mediocrity and once-upon-a-time achievements and its got to stop.

        You cannot be serious about playing possession style soccer when you do not select the right players for that style of play, you cannot expect to score goals or pressure the opponents back-line or have a forward create something out of nothing when you field a player without those skills as our point man……IT JUST ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN. That’s why most of this team should be young players who came up together through the ranks, who have no egos because they are young, who can play for one another, chase down the opposition, be there to support one another after a bad play etc.

        We should always have the underdog mentality as “the wolf on the hill is never as hungry as the wolf climbing the hill”, and the USMNT thinks it already on top of the hill with absolutely nothing to show for. Teams of old were always making that climb, trying to show teams that we are a force to be reckoned with, played with something to prove……now, for some reason we feel like we have made it. We are arrogant and delusional, trying to “create a possession style of play” when we are not in the top 20 in the world or even able to select the right talent to support that style of play. No country can “create” there own style of play with a no name coach and beat us in basket ball (its virtually impossible), and the same goes soccer with the top teams in the world. We need grit

      • We agree on Bradley his time has passed as a starter, I can see a use for him to kill off games for the final 10 minutes. Altidore may be flawed but he’s still the best we have when healthy. Sargent is pretty flawed right now and consistent minutes with Bremen don’t seem to be fixing those. Sometimes you have to choose mediocrity because it’s better than bad. But we’ll never agree in Altidore, so please don’t waste your time with MLS stats.
        If you look at what Steffen is saying having too many youngsters was part of the problem. Adams seems to be the natural leader in this group so having him only play one match due to injury affects that greatly. Pulisic has to take on at least some of that role as well since he’s one of the few current players who participated in last qualifying from the youngster group
        Roldan is the confusing one for me, yes he outplays a lot of guys in MLS in the role he plays for the Sounders but that’s not the role he has to play for the NT. Does he get pushed out with a healthy Adams, I’d think so but Holmes would also have looked a better option last fall.
        This team is being built for 2026. That’s not yo say we aren’t trying to qualify for 2022. Priority was given to fringe players playing U20 WC and then was again being given for players this year for Olympics. Build those players in youth internationals before going to full NT. Trapp has been moved out, Lovitz seems replaced (based on not playing in Jan), Roldan I think will hold on but if Aaronson, Pomykal, Ledesma keep improving on their trajectory there’s no room for him either. The US doesn’t have to out posses top 20 soccer teams but if they can cut down the possession from the 60-40 range we see against top teams and move that to 53-47, 52-48, that limits chances the other teams with higher quality attackers have and gives the Pulisics and Reynas more chances.

      • “We agree on Bradley his time has passed as a starter”….hahaha who are you and what did you do to johnnyrazor lol!!!!!

        Altidore sucks though and though. The funny thing is HE WILL NEVER LEAD IN ANY TOURNAMENT OR COMPETITION unless he is favored and constantly give a spot…like the USMNT for example. If he had to fight for his place based on the best stats available he would never see the field. No football governing Body gives trophies or recognition for “GOALS PER MIN PLAYED” hahaha. In the meantime, Mr. “two left feet” Zardes will be his daddy in MLS, as Wondo has borderline retired from whupping that a$$ hahaha

        “Sargent is pretty flawed right now and consistent minutes with Bremen don’t seem to be fixing those.”……. Hmmmm, if you play well for Werden Bremen in the Bundesliga but somehow suck when playing around Bradley, Altidore, Lovitz, Yuell etc…..I have news for you ITS YOUR TEAMMATES THAT ARE NOT UP TO PAR. The speed and timing of the game at the pro level is different. One step too soon or too slow and you throw the rhythm of the game off….Which the USMNT are known for because of a lot of dead beat, slow and talentless players selected on the team.

        “If you look at what Steffen is saying having too many youngsters was part of the problem.”….…I call BS. It’s the style of play of GB and the fact that the so call veterans that US soccer decided to call in camp are dead weight and should not be there. Adams and Pulisic will be just fine leading this team with relentless passion we have come to expect

        “Roldan is the confusing one for me,”…he should not be. He is not a starter but should be on the team

      • If you think Sargent is starring at Bremen you haven’t been paying attention. 3g and 2a in 18 matches, had lost his starting spot starting 3 of the last 11 he dressed for and hadn’t scored since October. In his last match before the break he scored a goal but was criticized by the manager for his poor play in the post game presser. He hinted that it was Sargent losing focus and not following the game plan that led to 2-0 lead after 6 minutes turning into a draw.

      • “If you think Sargent is starring at Bremen you haven’t been paying attention. 3g and 2a in 18 matches, had lost his starting spot starting 3 of the last 11 he dressed for and hadn’t scored since October.”

        ….and Jozy Altidore managed a grand total to two goals in a staggering 70 Premier League appearances, yet was a locked starter for the USMNT. Sargent is looking really good from an Altidore-perspective hahahaha

      • “In his last match before the break he scored a goal but was criticized by the manager for his poor play in the post game presser.”

        Hmmm…..Altidore’s struggled in the EPL and became a laughing stock at the Stadium of Light….one of the worst Strikers to EVER play in the Premier League. Yet here we are. like I said Whatever Sargent’s coach said is pail compare to what everyone said about Altidore hahaha ?

        Remember when I told you Altiore will never be number one in anything…..I talk that back haha?

      • Hmmmm…..wait wait don’t say it, I read your mind. “Well that’s just one reputable article”, right? hahaha, Nnnope
        Whether its out of a Hundred or 10…..Dang, your boy is king!!! Don’t take my word for it hahaha

        Yeah Sargent has time before he can be deemed like “your mans” hahahah

      • I’m not saying Sargent shouldn’t be included what I said is if your line is no mediocre players, then we need to play without a striker. Sargent has had both his club and NT manager question his mental focus in the last year. Sargent doesn’t have some dud games because of the talent around him, he has dud games because he’s far from a finished product.

      • Sargent needs to grow in the role as the next USMNT striker. Giving him playing time with the likes of Pulisic, McKennie, Morris etc consistently will boost his confidence, his ability to read and understand what is expected of him and develop that focus you are talking about.

        Yes, you are right, he is far from the finished product but he needs playing time to grow in this role. Not to mention that right now he is playing at a higher level than the MLS strikers we have available.

      • “I’m not saying Sargent shouldn’t be included”…..I never said that’s what you implied. I am just starting the fact that his shortcomings you highlighted are pail compare to the shortcoming of Jozy Altidore, and he was still given the opportunity up top. Now its Sargent’s turn to grow in that role.

        You can’t be one of the worst Strikers the EPL has ever seen in your prime and suddenly develop locked away skills and abilities at 30. We need someone else to take point

  5. (1) we’ve had a coach for more than.a year and he still doesn’t feel like anything’s implemented (2) if we have no natural identity then why aren’t we looking at winning stuff as opposed to Dutch cuteness.

    • Well, its gard to install things and a culture if youre constantly having to rearrange your roster bc the younger players, who comprise the majority of these rosters, are either injured all the time, not released by their club or arent getting the minutes necessary to help the senior team….year one was ALWAYS going to be a throw away in the sense that new management had to get to know the full pool and try to implement new, younger players into the fold. Lastly, considering the usmnt only gets together a few times a year Zach’s comments make sense but I dont thimk its a detriment by any means with the WC over 2 years away still


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