Crognale, Steffen share homecoming of sorts vs. D.C. United

Black & Gold goalkeeper Zack Steffen and defender Alex Crognale felt right at home on Saturday night, en route to the Club's 2-0 win over D.C. United at RFK Stadium.

The Nation's Capital neighbors the Crew SC defensive duo's alma mater, the University of Maryland — located in College Park, Md., just more than 30 minutes away by car. Crew SC’s first win in the 2017 MLS regular season was also Steffen’s first career win and shutout as a professional in Major League Soccer, and it was Crognale’s MLS debut.

Both played the full 90 minutes of action.

"I thought Zack was outstanding," Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match. "I said to the guys after the game that you need a goalkeeper to come up with saves at the right time, and that’s what he did. After the first goal, D.C. had a good opportunity and he came up big, so I was pleased with him.

"Alex did more than hold his own too: I think he played excellent and had a really good debut. In the first half, he was exposed a couple of times, but he came up big.”

Steffen made sure United remained toothless and scoreless on the season, while Crognale helped limit the fellow MLS charter member to just three shots on goal. Steffen was officially called into action 11 times with three saves, according to Opta. Steffen’s quick reflexes thwarted United’s final ball, while Crognale didn’t disappoint in his MLS debut with a stout 11 clearances and 22 successful passes on the night.

“It always feels good as a goalkeeper," Steffen said after the win. "It was a lot of hard work from the backline and the midfield and everybody in front of me. It felt great and was a good reward. Alex and I played at Maryland for two seasons, so for him to get his debut and play in front of me again feels great.”

Both players played collegiately at the University of Maryland, playing together for two years. In many regards, Saturday's performances were a continuation of their college days.

Steffen made 76 saves and registered eight shutouts in goal his freshman year, en route to ACC All-Freshman team honors as well as NCAA Championship Most Valuable Defensive Player recognition. Crognale scored 11 goals and added three assists in his time at the University of Maryland. He also captained the team to a third straight Big Ten tournament title and was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

The strength of any backline is hardened by it's personalities' chemistry and communication, and — judging from both Crognale and Steffen's play on Saturday — Crew SC appears to already have an advantage with the former college teammates-turned-professionals.

The Black & Gold return home next Saturday, on March 25, to host the Portland Timbers for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff at MAPFRE Stadium.

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