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Zack Steffen, Alex Bono looking to take charge in open USMNT goalkeeping competition

WHIPPANY, N.J.–  For the first time in decades, the United States men’s national team goalkeeper position is under question. 

For years, the job belonged to Colorado’s Tim Howard and Atlanta United’s Brad Guzan, but with both veteran goalkeepers out of recent camps, there’s an open competition at the position. 

Ahead of Friday’s game against Brazil at MetLife Stadium, Columbus Crew No. 1 Zack Steffen, Toronto FC’s Alex Bono and Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath are the three candidates to start. 

During the last round of friendlies in May and June, Bono received a start against Bolivia and Steffen started in between the pipes versus France. 

USMNT interim head coach Dave Sarachan didn’t let slip who would start in net, but admitted the competition is close. 

“I think we have a good core of young goalkeepers and I think the margins between what we consider the starter for Friday and the next guy that wouldn’t start is very thin,” Sarachan said. “I’m encouraged, but they’re young and need experience.” 

With three caps, Steffen is the most experienced of the goalkeeper corps, with Horvath earning two international appearances in his career and Bono’s lone appearance coming against Bolivia. 

Since the competition is open for someone to take hold of the position, the goalkeepers in the group are trying their best to create separation between themselves and the other two netminders. 

Apr 28, 2018; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono (blue) reacts after a goal by Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger (not pictured) at BMO Field. Toronto and Chicago tied. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

“I just come in and try to take it day by day. I come out every day with the right mindset, taking care of my body off the field and making sure I’m giving myself the best opportunity to win caps,” Bono said. “It’s about winning caps and winning games. That’s my main focus when I come here. I’m doing everything in my power to do that.” 

Steffen, a Pennsylvania native, is thought to be the frontrunner for the starting gig in many circles because of his form with the Crew and his performance in the 1-1 draw against France in June. 

The performance against France helped push Steffen more and it gave him plenty of confidence to help the Crew’s postseason push.

“It’s a feeling of motivation to get out there and get better and push yourself each day to learn from the coaching staff and players on the field,” Steffen said.  “We have a long road ahead of us and every spot is open for grabs, we just got to go into training everyday and train like you want to be out there.” 

Mar 10, 2018; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen (23) watches a ball in the second half against the Montreal Impact at MAPFRE Stadium. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Steffen has eight clean sheets in 22 games for the Crew, while Bono only has six wins and three shutouts in 20 matches for Toronto FC.

Despite dealing with a rocky patch of form at the club level all season, Bono is excited to take the opportunity in front of him in USMNT camp and relay that back to the Reds. 

“Obviously, I want to have success when I’m in Toronto and it’s not something that’s easy to push aside,” Bono said. “But also the change of environment is nice to refresh and get a new staff and new guys around you to reset yourself and make sure that when I go back to Toronto, I have that confidence with me and getting geared up for the rest of the season.” 

Following in the footsteps of Tony Meola, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Howard and Guzan won’t be easy for any young goalkeeper, but with the USMNT in a transition phase, everyone in camp is trying to reinvigorate the national team program and write their own names in history.

No one is going to become a USMNT legend Friday, or in the next year or two for that matter, but the friendly serves as yet another building block for the foundation the young group is looking to put together. 

“It’s our path create for ourselves,” Bono said. “We have to rely on ourselves to be continued to be called in and progress the national team at the rate the country, the federation and we want to progress the team. From our perspective, it’s an exciting prospect for us to be able to do that — and the work starts now.

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