SHORT HILLS, N.J. — When U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper Zack Steffen’s loan move to Fortuna Dusseldorf was made official, Alfredo Morales was one of the first people to reach out to him.
The midfielder, who returned to the USMNT picture for the September friendlies, sent Steffen a message through Instagram, and since then, their bond has grown stronger.
“When I heard about (the Steffen loan), our general manager told me about it a couple of days before everything was clear. And then I just reached out,” Morales said. “I just texted him through Instagram. And then just said, yeah, ‘If you ever need anything, I’m here and trying to support you. I’m helping you out with German language, or if he’s looking for something, some apartments or whatever.”
“Of course, I’m always trying to help my teammates, and especially him because I know he was in Germany already,” Morales said. “And it wasn’t the best time for him. I was just curious that he comes in and he feels good.”
“It was really nice of him to reach out to me,” Steffen said. “I was on vacation when he did. It brought a smile to my face just to have familiarity over there because it’s new. It was great and I’m definitely lucky to have him there.”
Steffen hopes his second go-around in Germany is more successful than his initial spell at Freiburg, but he still carries lessons from his maiden overseas voyage.
“It definitely gave me expectations,” Steffen said. “I knew what to expect this time for the most part in training and in games and the culture off the field. In those ways, Freiburg definitely helped me.”
“Everything happens for a reason,” Steffen said. “I went to Freiburg for a reason and it taught me a lot of things. It gave me a lot of things to expect coming back to Germany. Obviously, being the No. 1 over (at Fortuna Dusseldorf) and getting games week in and week out in the Bundesliga is very important and it’s a lot of fun and something I don’t take for granted. It’s definitely a good moment for me, but it’s only the start.”
The primary goal for the USMNT’s No. 1 keeper is to earn playing time for Manchester City, who loaned him out to Germany.
Steffen faces a tough road ahead to crack Pep Guardiola’s squad, but he is in constant contact with the staff in Manchester regarding his performances in the German top flight.
“My goal is to get back to City and play for City and compete there for a spot,” Steffen said. “I have those goals, but at the same time, I take it day by day and week by week and try and progress and get better in games, execute my role and learn from the guys on my team, my coaches and that process will hopefully get me to City.”
“I talk to the goalie coach (at Manchester City) weekly after each game,” Steffen said. “He tells me some things he likes and that he can work on and we catch up weekly or every two weeks and see how everything is going.”
Having Morales asa teammate has helped ease the transition for Steffen, who has dealt with finding a new place to live and learning more of the German language.
“(Steffen) thinks sometimes he’s good (at German) or he understands a lot,” Morales said. “No, he’s ok, he can understand parts. He’s taking lessons now.”
“I remember watching (Morales) with the National Team before,” Steffen said. “I never met him before Dusseldorf. He’s an outstanding player, physical and very poised on the ball and just very confident and he’s a huge part of our team back in Dusseldorf. I think he can really help us out (with the USMNT).”
“(Steffen)’s a great goalie,” Morales said. “We all know this. For us, as a team, he can really make an impact for (Fortuna Dusseldorf) as a player. And he did already. But it’s a long season. So he’s going to play for sure, that’s what I hope for him and what I also think. It’s fun. He’s a good guy.”
The immediate goal for the Fortuna Dusseldorf pair is to help the Americans build off their run to the final in the Concacaf Gold Cup, which begins Friday night with a friendly against rival Mexico at MetLife Stadium. It is the first meeting since El Tri beat the USMNT in the Gold Cup final.
“I thought (the Gold Cup) was a really good stepping stone.” Steffen said. “For a lot of us, that was our first senior tournament. We played against some good teams and we had some games where we knew we could’ve played better, could’ve been more composed on the ball and could’ve worked together more.
“We learned a lot about ourselves throughout that tournament,” Steffen said. “It’s a good place to start and we can work off that tournament. We’ve gone back and looked at what we did well and what we need to work on.”