Zack Steffen training
Daniel Herlensky / Columbus Crew SC Communications

Crew SC’s Steffen prepares for Round 2 against hometown Union

COLUMBUS – Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen recorded a clean sheet last Saturday night against the Philadelphia Union in the Black & Gold’s 1-0, home-match victory.

But Steffen is far from done with Philly. This home-and-home series has some extra meaning for the Downington, Penn., native. Crew SC and its goalkeeper will invade the City of Brotherly Love for the second and final meeting of the season between the two clubs on Wednesday evening.

The prodigal son

Steffen was at one point a member of the Philadelphia Union organization during his youth career. But unlike many other players in Major League Soccer’s development systems, Steffen never became a Homegrown Player or saw the pitch for the Union’s top squad.

“It was always kind of questionable, if I was Homegrown or not,” Steffen said. “And then when I went over to Germany, I guess it just kind of went away.”

After his time at the University of Maryland and with German-side FC Freiburg, Steffen signed with Crew SC as a Discovery Signing on July 16, 2016, and the rest is history.

Views from in-goal

Nobody has a better view of the on-field action than the goalkeepers in a match. After seeing the Union first-hand just three days ago, Steffen previewed the upcoming game and expects a press and some new faces on the pitch in the second leg of the home-and-home.

“Their field is a lot bigger than ours,” Steffen said. “So, they’re definitely going to high press us coming out from the start like they did against us. And they will have [defender Oguchi] Onyewu and a couple injuries back and [forward C.J.] Sapong will be back. He’ll create some sparks, so we’ll have to stay in tune and connected and compact to deal with all of that.”

Steffen is familiar with his opposition's main target, Sapong — the Union’s leading goal scorer.

“He is really athletic,” Steffen said. “He’s athletic and he has pace. He finds things out of nothing so we have to be focused for 90 minutes. He’s dangerous so you have to keep an eye on him.”

A family affair

The match at Talen Energy Stadium will not be without the presence of the Black & Gold faithful, and Steffen said that many of them will be family members and friends of his from the area, turned to the side of Crew SC to support the Pennsylvania-raised goalkeeper.

“Downington is only 35 minutes away from Philly, so yeah, there’s going to be a lot of people,” Steffen said.” “I did get a lot of yellow shirts. We were thinking black but it’s too close to the dark blue (that the Union wear).”

Just the beginning

The mid-week match kicks off an east-to-west road trip for the Black & Gold. After facing the Union on Wednesday, Columbus will travel to Utah to tangle with Real Salt Lake on July 29 before meeting the San Jose Earthquakes on the west coast on the following Saturday, August 5.

Steffen claims that Crew SC’s team culture has them prepared for the long road trip and that there are even plans for a little friendly competition during down time on the trip.

“We have a good team morale,” Steffen said. “There’s no ego so there’s no one on the team that you’re rolling your eyes at. But it will be a little different during this road trip. It’s going to be a little longer so I think we’re going to play some board games, we were talking about it. But, no, we don’t get sick of each other. It’s only five to six days. It’ll be fun.”

Columbus Crew SC travel to Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 26 to play the Union once again at 7:30 p.m. ET before traveling west to face Real Salt Lake on Saturday, July 29 at 8 p.m. ET on the road. The Black & Gold return home on Saturday, August 12 to battle the Chicago Fire at 7:30 p.m. ET at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus.