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Steffen’s mistake is the latest evidence that it’s time to leave Manchester City

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One mistake doesn’t define a player, much less a goalkeeper, so it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that Pep Guardiola would come out in support of Zack Steffen after his awful mistake in Saturday’s FA Cup Final loss to Liverpool.

Guardiola’s penchant for having his goalkeepers handle the ball more than most other teams has long made him a forgiving coach who accepts that handling errors will take place when goalkeepers have the ball as often as Manchester City’s goalkeepers have it. It is that support that gives his goalkeepers the courage to do some of the things the system needs them to do.

U.S. men’s national team fans watching Steffen weren’t quite as forgiving, and were left far more worried by his performance. It is an understandable reaction after watching the USMNT’s first-choice goalkeeper deliver a stinker in the most important club match he will start this season because it also served as a reminder that we haven’t seen Steffen at his best in a long time.

It might seem unfair to pile onto Steffen because of Saturday’s blunder, but the error itself merely calls attention to a reality that has become increasingly difficult to ignore. A lack of playing time has left Steffen at a left well below his best, and his form in the limited opportunities he has had for club and country supports the idea that his game has regressed.

We didn’t see Steffen at his best in World Cup qualifying, not even after Gregg Berhalter re-installed him as the starter last Fall. Steffen didn’t have any shocking errors on par with what we saw Saturday, but he did have some questionable hiccups and also failed to deliver an elite game-saving performance at any point in the cycle.

That fact was made even more clear when he was matched up against Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas in the final qualifier. While Steffen appeared as if he could have done better on Costa Rica’s second goal, it was Navas who made the stunning saves to keep the Ticos in the match before they scored their two second-half goals to post a 2-0 victory.

USMNT fans have been waiting to see Steffen deliver some of those kind of heroics for a good while, and the longer they have waited, the easier it has been to correlate that long wait with his lack of matches for Manchester City.

Make no mistake, when Steffen is at his best ,he can be an elite goalkeeper, but it is difficult to find and maintain that level with just the occasional start.

And this brings us back to Saturday’s blunder. You will hear about how mistakes happen to the very best goalkeepers, which is true, but there is a big difference between a regular starter logging upward of 50 matches in a season having one or two mistakes in a campaign and a backup who barely sees the field having that many or more in the same time frame.

The time has come for Steffen to leave Manchester City in search of consistent playing time, because a lack of sharpness just isn’t going to do for a goalkeeper expected to be the starter for the United States at the World Cup. You could point to Matt Turner’s looming move to Arsenal and question whether he isn’t heading for a similar situation, but there is a far cry from a Turner potentially starting the first three months of his first season at Arsenal as the back-up in goal and Steffen having spent the past two years as a backup, going that long without consistent matches.

It isn’t likely to be easy to leave the Etihad, where Steffen gets to work with Brazilian star Ederson and learn from Pep Guardiola, but playing time needs to be the priority, with either a loan or outright transfer paving the way for Steffen to play regularly.

Steffen hasn’t earned consistent minutes since a successful loan stint with then-Bundesliga side Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2019. He looked sharp in the first half of the 2019-2020 season before injuries sidelined him in the second half of that campaign, leading to his eventual return to City.

Steffen’s injury issues are another cause for concern, and you can’t help but wonder just how long the list of potential suitors will be for a goalkeeper who hasn’t shown himself to be the most durable despite a relatively light workload over the past two years. Given his skill set, age and the potential for him to return to the level that earned him a high-profile move to Manchester City in the first place, there should be plenty of opportunities for him on the market if he seeks a move this summer.

It will ultimately be up to Steffen to decide whether it is worth him leaving Manchester City. The answer seems simple enough. He should prepare for a summer move. Not only because it can help him be in better position to start at, and excel at the World Cup, but also because he needs to start thinking about whether he wants to rebuilding his career as a starter or risk becoming a long-term backup, and potentially jeopardizing his status as the USMNT’s first-choice goalkeeper.

Comments

  1. I mean – seriously, think about what you’re suggesting. From a coaches perspective. You’re saying that during those hundreds of hours of training, while surrounded by a top notch medical staff assessing everything from their farts to their movement on the pitch, that they somehow missed that Zack is nursing a bad back and that it would affect his performances? Well, that’s on you. Good luck with that sort of perspective.

    Zacks problem is strictly between the ears. Don’t be naive.

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  2. “A lack of playing time has left Steffen at a left well below his best, and his form in the limited opportunities he has had for club and country supports the idea that his game has regressed.”

    He wasn’t that good to begin with.
    At his best Steffen showed that he had the potential to be a really good keeper. That’s why Pep bought him. If it is true that regular playing time will bring that potential back, then he hasn’t regressed.

    He’s just stayed in a holding pattern.

    That’s very different from regressing. If he’s actually regressed he’s going to need more than just regular playing time to get back to his best potential. He should stay at City because they have people there who can teach him how to be better.

    “We didn’t see Steffen at his best in World Cup qualifying, not even after Gregg Berhalter re-installed him as the starter last Fall. …That fact was made even more clear when he was matched up against Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas in the final qualifier. While Steffen appeared as if he could have done better on Costa Rica’s second goal, it was Navas who made the stunning saves to keep the Ticos in the match before they scored their two second-half goals to post a 2-0 victory.”

    “Make no mistake, when Steffen is at his best, he can be an elite goalkeeper, but it is difficult to find and maintain that level with just the occasional start”

    This is nonsense. This is an insane comparison. Navas has for some time now legitimately been one of the best in the world. Even when he was at the very peak of his powers Zack did not deserve to be in the same zip code with that man.

    Zack has never been a great or an elite keeper. He’s shown the potential to maybe be one someday but again actually being elite is one thing.
    Having the POTENTIAL to be elite is another thing.

    You’re confusing the two.

    Zack still might one day be elite but he’s not now, never has been and might never be.

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  3. Doesnt matter, hes a Berhalter favorite (fits his system)
    so you can pencil him in as the starter for the World Cup regardless of form

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    • terrible comment because its not true, if that were the case Turner would have never gotten run in goal. To be honest, for all we know Zach was penciled in as the starter the last wcq window only bc Turner got injured, so I think we need to let these narratives rest, they’ve become silly at this point!

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  4. Excuses, excuses. I am harder on myself than this article is on Steffen. IMO, Turner is a better goal keeper. Assuming he returns to health before long, Turner should be our number 1 unless and until Steffen shows himself to be better.

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  5. “Steffen’s injury issues are another cause for concern, and you can’t help but wonder just how long the list of potential suitors will be for a goalkeeper who hasn’t shown himself to be the most durable despite a relatively light workload over the past two years.”

    Yup. MLS? Championship? Serie B? You would think playing time is better than bench-warming pedigree in a World Cup year. Prestige can come during the WC Finals.

    All that said, Liverpool is making David Degea look pedestrian today as well… 3-0 at 69m minutes. This is more about the trend with Steffen than piling on for one bad gaffe.

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    • The main problem I’ve had with Steffen is he’s just not moving like a guy who’s healthy. I’ve heard he’s had back problems…and you can kind of see it, he’s stiff and has been moving….oddly, like he has to limber himself up to convince everything to work, and even then it’s kind of cranky and erratic and pains him and slows him at odd and often inconvenient times. Rust may be part of it…but mostly he looks like he’s not 100%, just to my eyes.

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      • That’s the best observation yet.

        I would say he hasn’t looked confident in a while. A bad back will do that to you

      • This seems like a suggestion that, despite the hundreds of hours of training , and the unfathomable difference between his two managers, that both managers selected him for what would be the most important game of his life even though he had a bad back? This is where Ives is right to acknowledge steffens quality. Pep plays players that deserve to play. If you can’t take this into account along with Peps pedigree, and the fact that Gregg also chooses him for our most important matches, you don’t deserve to weigh in on the subject. That being said I start Turner… most likely. Depends if Zack can get out of his own head. It’s between the ears. Talent is there. Maybe not matched by aspiration.

      • Mal, my man, anybody who would use the words “you don’t deserve to comment” on a comments section that is designed for commenting is assuredly “Backpfeifengesicht”, for your word of the day. Have a google!

        My son’s the starting LT for a college football team now, by the way. He was a backup last year – to a guy whose back was so messed up he would come off the field, writhe and contort in pain while lying on the sideline doing limbering exercises trying to keep his back loose enough he could stand…and the dude would then go out and somehow make it through the next series.

        As actual athletes know, injuries happen in sports, and players try to fight through them…even when not necessarily 100%.

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