He has saved a Wayne Rooney penalty, won over Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, been compared to USA icon Tim Howard, and already made an impact on the Bundesliga. No wonder it is hard to imagine Fortuna Düsseldorf's Zack Steffen once cried at the prospect of playing football.
After being voted the MLS's top goalkeeper in 2018, Steffen left Colombus Crew to join Manchester City on a four-year deal last season before the English Premier League champions loaned him to Fortuna for the 2019/20 campaign.
He now happily performs in front of tens of thousands of supporters, but there was a time when the 6'3" Steffen would shrink into the seat of his family's car at the prospect of having to play.
Watch: Zack Steffen, a Bundesliga star is born!
"For years, Zack would cry before games," revealed his mum, Stephanie, who had to coax her son into his boots and gloves with sweets. "He simply didn't want to get out of the car and get onto the pitch."
Homesick in Freiburg
Now 24, the prospect of a sugar rush is no longer what motivates Steffen, who has settled much more quickly into his second spell in Germany than he did his first, notably thanks to one of his sisters, Lexy, coming with him this time.
In 2015, he had arrived in Freiburg all alone, and a combination of playing in the reserve team and homesickness prompted a disillusioned Steffen to return to the US. "I thought I would go over there, and everything would be glamourous," said Steffen, the eldest of five siblings in a close-knit family.
But the testing months spent in the Black Forest served him well. "He and our family have a lot of lessons that we learned from the time he was there," Stephanie said. "And I give him a lot of credit for gutting it out for as long as he did because I know it was a real challenging time for him."
There was another challenge at Columbus, who promptly loaned him out to farm team the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in North American football's second tier. A short spell there made him still more determined to succeed, and in 2017, he won the confidence of then-Crew coach Gregg Berhalter, who made him his number one.
"It just clicked"
"We were in Charleston and on Friday night Gregg called me to his room and we just had a five-minute conversation and he told me that the coaching staff and the players have confidence in me and they trust me and they just want me to go out there and play," recalled Steffen of the Crew's 2017 pre-season tour.
"When I heard that, I had a really good tournament in Charleston and I think it just clicked there and the confidence just kept growing."
After a five-star penalty shoot-out performance in the play-offs against Atlanta United that year, he repeated the feat against Rooney's DC United - parrying one of the ex-Manchester United and England forward's spot-kicks - and earned himself a place in the MLS All-Star Game.
"He has everything"
That is when Guardiola and City took an interest. "My agent called me and said they were looking and I was in awe," said Steffen. "I was like, 'What?' It’s crazy."
Not that the English champions thought they were mad in making the deal, the biggest yet for an MLS 'keeper. "Zack Steffen is a modern goalkeeper who has everything," said Fortuna's sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel, a former professional goalkeeper himself.
"He's technically good, strong in one-on-ones and a great footballer. It's not without reason that Manchester City have decided to give him a long-term contract."
Those reasons were abundantly clear on Matchday 1 when Steffen was named Man of the Matchday after Düsseldorf's 3-1 triumph at Werder Bremen, whose coach, Florian Kohfeldt, lamented his side had "come up against a fantastic goalkeeper."
Steak dinner or beer
Kohfeldt can feel all the more hard done by as Steffen, nicknamed 'Baby Howard' by US media after former USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard, never had ambitions of being between the posts at all.
A free-scoring defender in his local U10 team, Steffen only picked up the gloves when the usual goalkeeper failed to turn up for a game one day.
"We joke and we tell him all the time that he owes the other goalie who didn't show up for the tournament," Stephanie explained. "Zack owes him a case of beer or a steak dinner or something."