USA goalkeeper outlook: Who will seize No. 1 with Zack Steffen out?
Zack Steffen has been injury-plagued and faces a fight for his starting spot at Middlesbrough. Matt Turner has been a clear backup at Arsenal since his summer transfer from the New England Revolution, logging just one competitive appearance for the Gunners so far.
Ethan Horvath has a 2W-3L-3D record for a Luton Town side hovering just one point above the English Championship’s relegation places. Sean Johnson’s New York City FC are in a stretch-run tailspin in MLS (1W-6L-1D since the start of August), and Chelsea-bound Chicago Fire FC homegrown Gaga Slonina remains a teenage prospect in development.
It’s been called suboptimal, unsettling, even a potential disaster in waiting for their World Cup hopes. But Gregg Berhalter was doggedly optimistic about the outlook for the US men’s national team’s goalkeeping situation as he announced his 26-man roster for this month’s preparatory friendlies vs. Japan (Sept. 23) and Saudi Arabia (Sept. 27) in Europe.
And if you’re wondering who tops the depth chart at the moment, he dropped a few hints about that, too – a player who, at the moment, is a backup to England’s Aaron Ramsdale.
“I had a chance to sit down with Arsenal’s goalkeeper coach [Iñaki Caña] and talk to him about Matt’s development, Matt’s progress. We got to look at some video and see what his starting point was and where he is now,” Berhalter told reporters on Wednesday. “And I think he’s made a ton of progress. I got to see training, see him defending shots against guys like [Bukayo] Saka and some more of their talented attacking players. So I think that he’s in good form and he’s in a decent spot.
“Would I like him to be playing every week in the Premier League? Yes. But that’s not the case. We have Ethan Horvath playing every week at Luton, we have Sean Johnson playing every week at New York City. So we have guys that are on the field.”
Steffen, Berhalter’s former starter at the Columbus Crew and more often than not his preferred starter for the USMNT, is not on the field at present, and faces a fresh battle for minutes whenever he does return. A nagging knee problem sidelined him for Boro’s last several games and recently required a platelet-rich plasma treatment, with unheralded upstart Liam Roberts performing well in his absence.
“Yeah, well, I hope he’s fighting for his starting position,” said Berhalter of Steffen, who is with the Championship club on a season-long loan from Manchester City. “That’s what you want. You want guys that have to compete to get on the field. That’s what makes them stronger. Zack, it’s more a question in my opinion of his health.
“He’s been struggling with a little bit of a knee injury that they’re resting him, and now they’ve done a PRP injection and he’s waiting on that to calm down a little bit, but we expect him to be on the field shortly. And then it’s just a question of monitoring.”
It would appear that Turner has an inside track on the starting roles for this month’s friendlies. But with Horvath and Johnson playing far more regularly at club level lately, a keen competition may unfold when the USMNT gathers in Germany at the start of next week.
“Like any player, we’ll evaluate their body of work, we’ll evaluate what they’re doing at their clubs and what they’ve done for us in the past and we’ll assess it when the time comes,” said Berhalter of his ‘keepers.
“Overall, I think it’s something that we just are dealing with, and we’re going to give them the confidence and we’re going to put them in the best possible position to perform well for us. And Matt’s a guy that has done it before in tournaments. Ethan’s done it before and so has Sean, and Zack, without question, has done it before.”