Zack Steffen is set to return to eligibility for Middlesbrough this week, but after missing the past three matches through injury, the U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper isn’t guaranteed an automatic spot in Chris Wilder’s squad.
Wilder confirmed Monday that Steffen is available for Tuesday’s English Football League Championship match vs. Cardiff City, ending a short spell on the sidelined due to an knee injury. However, due to Liam Roberts’ impressive performances in Steffen’s absence, Wilder will have a tough decision to make with only two matches left on Middlesbrough’s schedule before the September international break.
“Zack will be available for Tuesday through Saturday as well,” Wilder told reporters Monday. “What we’re trying to do here is build a good squad of depth and full of competition and performances don’t drop because 1-2 players come out. I think Liam has impressed because of the way he’s come in and delivered a strong performance on Monday night [against rivals Sunderland]. What he did was really tidy and composed.”
Steffen, 27, has yet to savor a Boro victory after arriving on loan from Manchester City, posting a 0-2-3 record through five starts. He has made 10 saves and conceded nine goals in his 450 minutes of action, helping Middlesbrough claim points against West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City, and Sheffield United.
Steffen is continuing to push for involvement in the USMNT squad for September friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia, the final pre-World Cup camp for Gregg Berhalter’s squad. He has earned 29 caps with the USMNT to date, last appearing in March’s final window of World Cup Qualifying.
“He [Zack] is incredibly highly rated at one of the best football clubs in Europe,” Wilder added. “They don’t just give our four-year contracts, so he is highly rated there and it was a big signing for us to get Zack here. He unfortunately tweaked his knee and Robbo [Roberts] has come in and done well. It’s a group that is a lot stronger than what it was before the season.”
Roberts has started in each of the last three matches, posting a 2-0-1 record in Steffen’s absence. The 27-year-old has made seven saves and most recently recorded a clean sheet in a 1-0 home victory over Sunderland. He officially joined the club from Northampton Town in June.
Middlesbrough faces Cardiff City on Tuesday before closing out its September schedule against Rotherham United on Sept. 17.