As the then-Chief Scout and Manager of Football Partnerships for Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC interim general manager Pat Onstad first came across goalkeeper Zack Steffen in 2013, when Steffen was a young feature for NCAA Division I powerhouse University of Maryland’s men’s soccer team.
“I’ve known Zack since 2013 when he first kind of stepped on the field with Maryland, and I was scouting him for Toronto FC actually at the time,” Onstad said. “And then when I came here in 2014 with Gregg Berhalter and Precourt Sports Ventures, I still continued doing the college scouting and watched him and just kind of kept tabs on him.”
Nearly a year later, U.S. Soccer requested Onstad, a three-time MLS Cup champion and assistant coach under former Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, to conduct goalkeeping courses for the governing organization.
Lo and behold, Steffen resurfaced in front of Onstad, this time regarding discussion of the U.S. Under-20 National Team.
“And then, I think the interesting thing for me,” Onstad said, “is U.S. Soccer called on me and said ‘can you do some coaching courses?’ And I was doing some goalkeeping coaching and I remember watching the U-20 video and watching [Steffen] and I’m going, ‘that guy looks familiar, I’m trying to remember who he is,’ and watching him and saying, ‘this kid’s pretty good.’
“I remember telling a group of coaches and saying, ‘you watch out; this guy is going to be a U.S. number one,’ and that was in 2015. And sure enough, at that stage we sat around as a group, as a technical staff, and we were looking at U.S. players to put on a discovery list and I said ‘I got this goalkeeper I really like. I’d like to stick him on.’ So, we put him on and sure enough that’s the guy that ended up becoming who he is for us and who he will be when he moves on to Man City.”
Not only did Onstad claim witness to Steffen’s maturation from the collegiate level onward, but also to some of the intangibles that have propelled Steffen to Europe’s wealthiest league.
“The other thing I want to talk about a little bit is Zack, his character, and the way he plays,” Onstad said.
“The one thing about Zack we all know and I think you as reporters have seen as well is that he thrives in the limelight; you know the big games when we play in Atlanta for example, against France leading into the World Cup, D.C. United this year in the playoffs…; he’s always there in the big bright lights and that’s why I think he’ll be successful.
“When I first met him – very athletic, quick goalkeeper – but what he’s grow into is an excellent reader of the game and, this year especially, we’ve really seen him grown into a leader within the locker room. I think that’s a testament to him and his whole goal and the way he plays is that he wants to get better every single day. And that is why I believe this guy is going be successful no matter where he goes and I am excited for him.”