American goalkeeper Zack Steffen has only started two of the 12 games Manchester City has played since he moved to England this summer, but he won't trade the experience for anything.
"Manchester City is one of the best teams in the world," he said on a media call ahead of Thursday's USA-Wales friendly. "The talent that we have at that club has already made me a better keeper."
After two seasons as the Columbus Crew's No. 1 keeper, Manchester City acquired Steffen in 2019. He played the first half of the 2019 MLS season with Crew, then moved on loan to Germany's Fortuna Duesseldorf. A knee injury kept him out of the second half of the Bundesliga season, but he was healthy when he joined Manchester City, where he is the backup to Brazilian Ederson.
Steffen didn't enjoy the usual routine of breaking into a new team and getting to know his new teammates because of the delay in finishing the 2019-20 Premier League season due to the COVID-19 pandemic cut short the break between seasons.
"We didn't have preseason," he said. "We didn't have those 5-6 weeks where we had two-a-days and games and the extra meetings and that extra time to get to know them more and what they're really like off the field. With COVID, it's tough. We don't have team dinners, we don't have team events."
But Steffen said Manchester City has done a very good of making sure the new players are settled in and comfortable.
"They want us to be fully focused on football," he said. "They really help us out and worry about everything else. Whether that's cars, whether that's banking, whether it's housing, family stuff, anything at all, they're one call away, one text away."
The 25-year-old keeper said he is being pushed in ways he has never been before.
"I'm really enjoying getting to just learn new things," he said, "look at how they do football as they call it over there. In every aspect, it's quicker, it's faster, it's more intense, it's sharper. You really have to be focused in, dialed in on your game every day. Every training now you can't take days off, you can't take really any time off during training. It's really good to see the professionalism of how these guys work, day in and day out."
Steffen, who has 18 caps for the USA, is perfecting techniques he's worked on before and learning new ones.
"Whether that's hand positioning when you're catching the ball or it's a set position on a certain shot or a 1-v-1 little dual," he said. "There's so many little aspects that I obviously knew of and I knew the techniques, but I feel like I never really got the reasons why. I'm learning some new techniques, but some reasons of why these techniques are going to help me in the long run. When you're doing new techniques and different things, there's a learning process to that and learning curve and it's taken some time and just a lot of repetition, but I feel like I've sharpened myself in the technical era, for sure."
Steffen is playing for one of the greatest coaches of the last two decades, Spaniard Pep Guardiola.
"He's obviously a very, very smart, very prestigious coach," he said. "It's awesome to be on the inside and really see how he works. Day-to-day, I feel like he has a good balance of being focused and intense but with that he brings humor and he brings his genuineness and just kindness. It's been cool to see how he works. How the coaching staff works. Obviously, its coaching staff is very good, very high level. And they've been together for four or five years."
The only games Steffen has played are two EFL Cup matches: a 2-1 win over Bournemouth and 3-0 win at Burnley.
"Obviously, getting games week in and week out is most important," he said. "And that's what we want. That's what I want. Right now, I'm trusting the process. I'm getting these games in the EFL Cup. I'm just trying to learn from the guys and from my staff. And then hopefully coming into these camps and getting games here and the rest will work itself out as long as I work hard and then continue to trust the process."
Photos: PRiME Media Images/Imago/Icon Sportswire
Interesting to see how his ball placement is for one thing American goalies are lousy at is ballplacement techniques...very poor ball handling skills with the feet....
Many years ago, when I was part of the coaching team of Boys U12, I had a very feisty argument with one of the other coaches about the importance of a keeper's feet, and why it was so important developmentally to play the second keeper as a field player. But the mindset still prevails here in the United States and we see it on display all too often from MLS on down, when keepers do not have the confidence and skill to play the ball well with their feet. On the other hand, you have Neuer and ter Stegen with good feet, the ability to play the ball well enough to become keeper-sweeper when necessary. There are others that may also come to mind, but these two are exceptional. Not Pickford though!
It isn't just the matches. During training they need to do the same technical and tactical training as the field players.
Ben, I am surprised that conversation was at the U12 level. That is far too early in development to specialize in one positon.
Ben , You are so right! When Cruyff coached Ajax in his first year, he took his goalie Stanley Menzo who learned his game in the streets and applied him as second libero, just in case he needed to play on the field to cover the space behind the defensive line.
At the age of 12 all these kids need to work on their foot skills, for you can't tell if a player later on will become a good goalie. At 12 it is still an open game as far where will the kid, postionally, end up .
In my street soccer days everybody played goalie. As a matter of fact Cruyff was used as a back up goalie just in case. Cruyff could read the players so well that he knew where to position and where the ball would go....
It is much better for a goalie to have been a former field player ,just like it is better to have a back to be a former winger...The benefits later on are amazing...
But like I say , in America the goalies have horrible kicking/placing skills....
He has a lot to learn--kind of late in the game for Zack. Ederson and Alisson are two of the best. Similarly, American football punters could learn a lot from Aussie Rules kickers like Michael Dickson and Cameron Johnston.
Lots of foolishness and bad advise to keepers in USA - even at Zack's level. Look at Leeds keeper - kid is 20. He plays every game. This is the key. Keepers gotta get games. They can always work on the technical, saves, feet, but must get games. Cannot simulate games in practice for field player, but even more so for keeper. For me, ZS move to Man City he gave up control of his development and growth to a club and coach/staff, that are world class, but do not have good track record of developing keepers. Looks good in the papers, but on the pitch, less so.