Zack Steffen, Matt Turner, Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson all can argue their case to represent the USMNT at the 2022 World Cup.
Battle For World Cup USMNT ‘Keeper Spot Heats Up
By Matthew Stein
Most people assume Zack Steffen will be between the sticks when the US Men’s National Team kicks off its 2022 World Cup campaign against Wales. Plenty of fans want to see Arsenal’s Matt Turner be the number 1 in goal for the US. But with two months until the World Cup, neither have done close to enough this season to earn the nod.
Only one US-born keeper is an undisputed number 1 on the club level and has won a league championship, NYCFC’s Sean Johnson. As a member of the Chicago Fire, and now NYCFC, Johnson has been his team’s first selection keeper for more than a decade. His save percentage is consistently around 70% and he stays healthy.
Long before Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, or even Landon Donovan made their marks in European football, American-born keepers were blazing the trail to Europe. Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, and Tim Howard were all stars in English football. They were also foundational blocks for the national team for about two decades.
But Howard’s retirement left a void for the national team and an established starter in top-flight European football. Ethan Horvath was already playing in Europe when Howard left the game. But Horvath has failed to impress at Molde, Club Brugge, Nottingham Forest, and now Luton Town. US fans will always remember his heroics in the 2019 Nations League Finals but are you going to pick a keeper based on one game he didn’t even start?
Speaking of starting, Zack Steffen had to leave Manchester City in search of starts. City loaned him to Middlesbrough, in the Championship, for the season. There he’s failed to nail down the #1 position and has yet to win a game. Boro is currently sitting in the relegation zone ten games into the season.
Barring injury, Steffen is a lock to be on the final roster announced by Gregg Berhalter. But after watching his performance against Liverpool in the FA Cup semifinal last season, or some of the soft goals he allowed during World Cup qualifying, I’m not confident he’ll get the US out of the group stage.
At least Steffen is playing; that’s more than we can say about Arsenal’s Matt Turner. Kudos to Turner for wanting a new challenge and pushing through a transfer to Arsenal but maybe he should’ve waited a year. I’ve played as many minutes (0) in the Premier League, or any professional level this season, as Turner. That’s a lot of rust to shake off quickly before Gareth Bale takes aim in the first group stage game followed by Harry Kane on Black Friday.
As a fan, I complain that Gregg Berhalter gives too many opportunities to MLS players. I do not understand how Paul Arriola, Kellyn Acosta, Jesus Ferreira, and Gyasi Zardes are selected and play over European-based players. My point is simply Berhalter seems to reward players who stay in MLS but does not give Sean Johnson that benefit.
Johnson may not be the flashiest keeper, the best at build-up play, or creating from the back but he wins. The US is expected to have the youngest squad when the World Cup starts in November. Johnson is 33 years old with more than 350 appearances across all competitions.
No other American keeper has played half as many games as Johnson. He led NYCFC to the top seed in the Eastern Conference in 2019. Last season, he was the hero when the MLS Championship game went to penalties. Johnson may not have the European pedigree, but he should be on the flight to Doha.