Steffen US No 1 keeper despite lack of Man City playing time

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Manchester City's goalkeeper Zack Steffen warms up ahead of the English League Cup third round soccer match between Manchester City and Bournemouth at the City of Manchester Stadium in Manchester, England, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.(Laurence Griffiths/Pool via AP)

Zack Steffen figures to make a rare appearance in goal Thursday when the United States plays Wales in Swansea.

The 25-year-old is the top American goalkeeper but has played two matches since December, missing the second half of last season with a knee injury while on loan to Fortuna Düsseldorf and then spending most of this season on Manchester City’s bench after taking over from Claudio Bravo as Ederson’s backup.

“I’m really happy with where I’m at right now,” Steffen said Tuesday. “I want to be on the field, but I’ll keep working hard and keep pushing those guys in front of me and they’ll keep pushing me.”

The U.S. had a long history of top goalkeepers, with Tony Meola starting at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, Kasey Keller in 1998 and 2006, Brad Friedel in 2002 and Tim Howard in 2010 and 2014.

Howard was still the top choice at age 38 when the Americans were eliminated from qualifying for the 2018 tournament with the October 2017 defeat at Trinidad and Tobago. Steffen appears to have emerged as the new No. 1 over 36-year-old Brad Guzan, 29-year-old Bill Hamid and 31-year-old Sean Johnson heading into the start of 2022 World Cup qualifying next September.

“Ideally, all the players play regularly,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “And that includes goalkeepers. I think Zack, in this particular situation, has a great opportunity to play at one of the best clubs in the world and he’s behind one of the top three goalies in the world. I think in that environment every day is helpful. It’s helpful to a certain point.”

Born in the Philadelphia suburb of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, Steffen started youth soccer as a defender and switched to goalkeeper when he was 10. He went to Malvern Prep for two years and Downingtown West High School while also playing for the Philadelphia Union’s academy, then played two seasons at the University of Maryland before signing with Germany’s Freiburg in December 2014 at age 19.

Steffen played for fourth-tier Freiburg II in 2015-16, then signed with Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew and was loaned to Pittsburgh of the third-tier United Soccer League for the rest of the 2016 season. He started for Columbus under Berhalter in 2017 and ’18, earning MLS goalkeeper of the year in his second season, then agreed to a transfer to Manchester City effective in the summer of 2019.