SIRK’S NOTEBOOK: Zack in the attack

Black & Gold legend Frankie Hejduk loves it when things get weird at MAPFRE Stadium. Saturday night’s 4-1 victory over the Montreal Impact definitely had an abundance of good weird. In a night chock full of milestones, the weirdest of all was Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen entering the record books as the 7th Columbus goalkeeper to ever register an assist.

In the 88th minute, Steffen booted a long ball toward the Montreal end. Forward Adam Jahn, who had just entered the match, flicked a header to Federico Higuain. Pipa then put a left-footed finish on the ball to write Steffen’s name in the record books.

When apprised of his statistical feat, Steffen seemed puzzled, although the confusion could have been an aftereffect of making a save with his face four minutes before his assist.

“Really? That counts?”

It does.

“I’ll take it! That’s pretty sweet. That was well done by Adam, though.”

Most goalkeeper assists involve a target forward flicking on a header, and Jahn performed the role to perfection with his first touch immediately upon entering the game.

Defender Josh Williams recounted Jahn’s whirlwind transition from the sideline to the scoresheet.

“I was telling him I watched him go from warming up on the sideline, jogging to the bench and putting a jersey on, didn’t break stride, sub in, didn’t break stride, ran onto the field, didn’t break stride, header, and then assist,” Williams said. “I don’t think he ever broke stride.”

While booting the ball down the field to the general vicinity of Adam Jahn may not be a precision final-third pass executed by the likes of a traditional No. 10 like Higuain, Williams said it still signifies an aspect of Steffen’s game and an import aspect of Crew SC’s style of play.

“[Before] We had Steve [Clark], who was one of the best with his feet, so we’re asking a lot from the goalie position,” Williams said. “For him to come in, as young as he is, he has maintained a steady calmness about him. He’s always surveying his options and he almost always chooses the right one. To hear that stat, I’m not really surprised.”

For captain Wil Trapp, he’s seen the steady growth in that part of Steffen’s game as he has settled into the starting role.

“I think in preseason, you’re just breaking in the style of play,” Trapp said. “He’s fighting for the starting spot and then he gets the starting spot, and now you’re seeing his quality on the ball. He has confidence playing out of tight situations and making the right decisions when the pressure is on. Whenever your goalkeeper can get assists, that’s cool to see.”

Maybe it’s cool to see in general, but not if you are a center back who feels threatened by your goalkeeper’s foot skills.

“I’m starting to get worried,” Williams joked. “Maybe he comes up to center back. Maybe we just eliminate the center back position and just use him.”

*****

Here is an update to my full Crew SC goalkeeper assist list. Let’s re-live the glory of all seven goalkeeper assists!

1.) Bo Oshoniyi

April 13, 1996
Columbus 4, D.C. United 0
CLB: McBride (Oshoniyi) 86’

The first is by far the most famous. From when Oshoniyi executed his dropkick from his goal box, the ball never touched the ground again until it bounced just before crossing the goal line at the other end of the field. In between, Oshoniyi sent a long ball to McBride, who popped the ball into the air, ran onto it, and volleyed a shot that would cap a 4-0 victory in Crew SC’s inaugural game.

This goal has to be seen to be believed. See it. Believe it.

2.) Brad Friedel

July 25, 1997
@ D.C. United 1, Columbus 1 (D.C. won shootout 3-1)
CLB: Marino (McBride, Friedel) 76’

This one seems pretty easy to guess what happened. It would appear that Brad Friedel punted the ball and— surprise! —Brian McBride got his head on it. And then —surprise! — Sneaky Pete Marino was lurking nearby to finish the chance.

3.) Juergen Sommer

August 22, 1998
Columbus 3, Tampa Bay 1
CLB: John (McBride, Sommer) 59’

I’m noticing a trend here. A goalkeeper, a Brian McBride, and then a goal. In this case, it was insatiable goal hound Stern John putting the ball into the net.

4.) Tom Presthus

June 2, 2002
@ Chicago 5, Columbus 4
CLB: Cunningham (Presthus) 25’

A ha! A goalkeeper assist that does not involve Brian McBride! Instead, this is a different sort of assist that is easy to guess. It would appear that Presthus booted the ball over the top and the speedy and lethal Cunningham ran onto the ball and finished the breakaway.

5.) Andy Gruenebaum

September 29, 2012
Columbus 3, Philadelphia 2
CLB: Arrieta (Gruenebaum) 50+

The Hebrew Hammer’s helper came deep into first half stoppage time. A terrific dribble and finish from Jairo Arrieta sealed the deal, as seen here:

6.) Steve Clark

July 4, 2015
Columbus 2, New York 1
CLB: Finlay (Kei Kamara, Clark)

Clark followed the familiar goalkeeper assist template, with Kei Kamara serving as his surrogate McBride. Steve says “ASSIST!” Yes! Yes! Yes!

7.) Zack Steffen

June 24, 2017
Columbus 4, Montreal 1
CLB: Higuain (Jahn, Steffen)

Steffen became the latest mitts-wearing maestro when he picked out Adam Jahn for a long pass. Jahn, in the McBride role, flicked a header to Higuain, who put the shot away and added Steffen’s name to this peculiar list.

*****

Oh, and one last thing. Forget recent milestones like Pipa joining the 40/40 Club and stuff like that. With an assist already secure in the record books, Steffen is just one goal away from founding the exclusive One/One Club for MLS goalkeepers. He just needs a William Hesmer moment.

Of course, Zack’s primary focus should be on making saves with his hands and legs and face and whatnot, but if this video should inspire him to achieve Black & Gold immortality after fully recovering from pulling several abdominal muscles due to laughing hysterically at the peak #LOLTFC of Hesmer’s goal, that would be cool and the most awesome kind of weird.

Questions? Comments? As dismayed as I am that I cannot confirm whether Zack’s single-game face-save and assist combo was the first in Black & Gold or MLS history? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk
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