Not even Claudio Pizarro could find a way past USA and Fortuna Düsseldorf goalkeeper Zack Steffen on Matchday 1. - © 2019 DFL
Not even Claudio Pizarro could find a way past USA and Fortuna Düsseldorf goalkeeper Zack Steffen on Matchday 1. - © 2019 DFL
bundesliga

Zack Steffen: The Bundesliga's new American hero and MD1's Man of the Matchday

Manchester City-owned USA international goalkeeper Zack Steffen says he is relishing the challenge of playing in the German top flight, after pulling off 10 saves on a winning Bundesliga debut for Fortuna Düsseldorf.

Steffen previously spent 18 months in Germany with Freiburg between January 2015 and June 2016, turning out 14 times for the reserve team, before returning to the States with Columbus Crew.

He officially joined English Premier League outfit Man City in July 2019, but was immediately loaned out to Düsseldorf, where he is already beginning to feel at home.

"It's a lot of new challenges for me, and I want to perform and execute my job," Steffen told bundesliga.com after making his league bow in Fortuna's 3-1 win at Werder Bremen on Matchday 1 of the 2019/20 season.

"I've got a good group of guys around me, a good coaching staff to lift me up and give me confidence, and make me feel at home."

Watch: Zack Steffen reflects on his first Bundesliga outing

It's safe to say that sense of appreciation runs both ways in Düsseldorf, with Steffen winning the plaudits after his show-stopping heroics at the Weser-Stadion.

"We had to withstand an unbelievable amount of pressure and Steffen made some fantastic saves," said Fortuna head coach Friedhelm Funkel afterwards. "He was definitely man of the match."

Bremen boss Florian Kohfeldt also tipped his hat to the custodian afterwards, saying "we were up against a brilliant goalkeeper today". Düsseldorf sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel struck a similar chord: "For a goalkeeper it's very important to put in a match-winning performance in your first game."

Meanwhile, Fortuna defender Kaan Ayhan offered a slightly different – if no less glowing – perspective on his new teammate: "When he comes charging out, with the physique he has, as a defender you definitely think twice about whether to go for the ball or to get out of the way."

Steffen moved to Fortuna just two days after the conclusion of the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, where he kept four clean sheets prior to the USA's 1-0 defeat to Mexico in the final.

He made his first appearance for his new club in the pre-season win against Rayo Vallecano and played the full 90 minutes of Fortuna's 3-1 victory at lower-league Villingen in the DFB Cup first round, before starring in Bremen.

Steffen was untested in the first half, but made a telling contribution after conceding the equalising goal to Johannes Eggestein early in the second period

With Werder chasing the game, the 15-time USMNT international pulled off a series of fine stops from the likes of 2010/11 Bundesliga winner Nuri Sahin, compatriot Joshua Sargent and veteran goal-getter Claudio Pizarro to ensure Fortuna went home with all three points.

Steffen frustrated Bremen time and again on his Bundesliga debut, demonstrating brilliant reflexes on his line. - imago images / Nordphoto

"It's very fast, very technical," Steffen said of the playing standard in the Bundesliga. "You always have to be switched on, stay tuned in and stay focused. It's making me better day by day."

Steffen, who appears to have won the battle for the No.1 jersey at Düsseldorf, is expected to make his second Bundesliga appearance when Fortuna host Rhineland rivals Bayer Leverkusen on 24 August.