Zack Steffen has seen his stock rise exponentially in the past year, winning MLS goalkeeper of the year honors while establishing himself as the U.S. national team's first-choice starter. As special as his 2018 has been, his 2019 is gearing up to be even better, with Premier League champions Manchester City lining up a bid for his services.
Pep Guardiola's side is in the process of finalizing a transfer for Steffen, with multiple sources telling Goal the fee will be in the $7-10 million (£5.5-7.8m) range, along with a sell-on clause. City and the Crew have agreed on the parameters of a deal, but paperwork had yet to be signed as of late Monday.
The transfer deal, first reported on Monday by The Athletic, would shatter the MLS record for a transfer fee paid for a goalkeeper, topping a 15-year-record set when Tim Howard transferred to Manchester United in 2003 in a then-$3m (£2.3m) move.
Steffen, 23, was the subject of a transfer bid in the summer, when Championship side Bristol City made a $3.9m (£3m) offer, only to have the bid ultimately rejected by the Crew.
The Crew's decision to pass on that deal is looking like a stroke of genius, with Steffen now preparing to potentially go for more than double that original price.
It has been a stunning rise for Steffen, who joined the Crew three years ago after an uncomfortable stint with Bundesliga side Freiburg. He has thrived in the Crew's system playing for head coach Gregg Berhalter, the front-runner to be named the next U.S. national team coach. The Crew's possession-based system, which requires Steffen to distribute the ball more than most goalkeepers, has also made him an ideal candidate to fit with City, a club which requires its goalkeepers to be comfortable with the ball at their feet.
City is in need of fresh goalkeeper options after losing Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to a torn Achilles at the start of the season. Ederson is City's first-choice starter in goal, with untested youngster Arijanet Muric serving as the Brazilian's current backup.
Steffen would still need to qualify for a U.K. work permit. He would not qualify automatically, and could wind up having to spend the second half of the Premier League season on loan if his appeal is rejected. If Steffen remained the USMNT's first-choice goalkeeper, he could accrue enough national team appearances between now and the summer's Gold Cup tournament to improve his chances of securing a U.K. work permit ahead of the 2019-2020 season.
Though it has only been three years since he left Europe to return to the United States, Steffen believes he is ready to make a move back to Europe.
"I’ve matured so much in these past three years ever since I left Germany," Steffen told Goal in early November. "To have these experiences with my family on the side of the field here in Columbus and all over where they’ve traveled in cities in this league. That drives me for the next challenge. I want to be pushed. I know that if I go over (to Europe) it’ll be different than in Germany."