The “who should start in net for the United States National Team” in the post Tim Howard era of American goalkeeping continues to be an enraging debate. However, that may be finally coming to a head with the Qatar World Cup starting in November and manager Gregg Berhalter being forced into making a decision.
With the World Cup only months away, many of the top goalkeepers on the depth chart have found new homes, only making the debate more interesting.
Potential starters have new homes
Zack Steffen’s move from the Columbus Crew to Manchester City was one brought with much fanfare when it happened. The thought of a young, blossoming American plying his trade with one of Europe’s elite gave shades on when Tim Howard moved to Manchester United from the New York Metro Stars (yes, Metro Stars) in 2003.
Things didn’t quite pan out exactly as Steffen hoped. While he flashed in moments, inconsistent playing time caused a dip in form which carried over to the national team. With Qatar on the horizon, Steffen went on loan from Manchester City to EFL Championship Club Middlesbrough.
Official: USMNT GK Zack Steffen completes loan to Middlesbrough from Manchester City.
Manager Chris Wilder: “Man City don’t hand out four-and-a-half-year contracts if they don’t think anything of them. Everyone knows his situation, he needed to play because of the World Cup.” pic.twitter.com/qwUUujtAuf
— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) July 19, 2022
Steffen’s move to Middlesbrough — where he should have a much easier path to first team minutes and consistent playing time, only increasing his claim to be the starter, considering his competition, Matt Turner, finds himself in a situation Steffen once did.
Turner, one of the MLS’ most dominant netminders in recent seasons, made his long awaited move from the New England Revolution to English giants Arsenal. With Aaron Ramsdale firmly in place as the No. 1 goalkeeper, Turner’s playing time will be few and far between once the season starts, however he recently said that doesn’t worry him.
“Playing consistently in MLS did not guarantee me the starting XI for the U.S. national team,” Turner said in an article on ESPN. “I needed to shake it up to take my game to the next level and playing in the Premier League with these guys has already shown me some massive improvements.”
Not a starter, same problem
Ethan Horvath has eight caps for the Stars and Stripes and has proven to be reliable depth, but also faced the same problem as Steffen once did and Turner does now. With there not being a path for him to start, he left newly promoted Premier League side Nottingham Forest for Luton Town on loan.
With Sean Johnson at NYCFC and ascending talents (will touch on one of those momentarily) nipping at his heels for the third spot on the depth chart and a place in the squad for Qatar, Horvath’s decision is one just as needed as Steffen’s.
Gaga’s Transfer Saga
Chicago Fire starlet Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina is already one of the top keepers in the MLS and one of the brightest prospects in the world at his position. The 18-year-old seems set for a move to English giants Chelsea after rebuffing reported interest from many of the top teams in Europe.
Slonina is tied for second in the league with 10 clean sheets, only behind the aforementioned Johnson and Jamaican International and Philadelphia Union star Andre Blake, both of whom have significantly more experience and have much better teams around them.
GABRIEL SLONINA WHAT A SAVE!!!
— USMNT Only (@usmntonly) June 26, 2022
It looks like the prodigious goalkeeping talent will be moving to Stamford Bridge for 15 million euros, plus add-ons that will come into play should he hit specific performance bonuses. His deal, per Fabrizio Romano, will run until 2028 and he will stay with Chicago on loan until the end of the season.
It was not too long ago that Chelsea nurtured a young Thibaut Courtouis into one of the best shot stoppers in the world.
Gabriel Slonina has just signed the contract with Chelsea after medical on Monday – finally sealed between clubs/player. ✅🔵🇺🇸 #CFC
▫️ Contract valid until June 2028, six year deal;
▫️ Slonina will stay at Chicago Fire on loan;
▫️ $15m add ons included.
Here we go confirmed. pic.twitter.com/rZevNmuZB6
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) August 2, 2022
Even if Chelsea’s starting goalkeeper spot is locked up for now, with Edouard Mendy now 30, a path for Slonina to play and start for Chelsea in the next couple of years is there.
While Steffen and Turner may be the current debate and are expected to start at the World cup, it seems only a matter of time before Slonina’s expected to take the reins at the position and become the next great goalkeeper in a strong lineage of Americans at the position.
As the World Cup nears, follow Shaun Chornobroff on Twitter for United States Soccer content as well as articles and videos from other sports.