United States men's national team goalkeeper Zack Steffen said the team doesn't have an identity and that a year was lost before bringing on Gregg Berhalter as coach. The Manchester City-owned player, who is on loan at Bundesliga side Fortuna Dusseldorf, opened up in an interview with ESPN FC where he was candid, honest and critical on a USMNT looking to find stability.
It's been a rough few years for the U.S., all starting with the shock of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Since then, there's been inconsistent performances, injury issues and a Gold Cup final loss to Mexico. The U.S. went more than a year without bringing in a permanent head coach, with Dave Sarachan serving as interim boss before Berhalter was hired in late 2018.
Steffen left the Columbus Crew in 2019, joining Manchester City before going out on loan to Dusseldorf where he's played 18 games. The 25-year-old Pennsylvania native is the No. 1 goalkeeper for the national team and has 17 caps.
"We don't have an identity right now," he said. "We're very young and inexperienced and immature in the international soccer world right now. We're trying to find our feet, we're trying to find leadership, we're trying to find our playing style."
Berhalter coached Steffen with the Crew and has been adamant that the agile goalkeeper is the sure starter. Steffen saw his career take off under Berhalter and is close with the coach but just doesn't get how it could have taken U.S. Soccer that long to make the hire, feeling it was just a waste of time in between.
"I wasn't happy with how we just pushed off the head coach [selection] and all that stuff. I know it's not easy … but 13 months? That's way too long," Steffen said. "It just makes no sense why to have that interim [tag]. For us players, we didn't like it because we'd just go out there and have fun, work hard, compete. We didn't really have a system, we didn't have very many details or directions."
Steffen also said that playing for Berhalter felt like playing with a national team, while the time with Sarachan felt more relaxed and more about fun. It's not a glowing endorsement for U.S. Soccer in any way, but it's refreshing to hear a player speak out about issues that were visible from the outside.
The U.S. was scheduled to play against the Netherlands and Wales in March in friendlies but those were called off due to the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. is expected to begin World Cup qualifying this fall.