Zack Steffen has revealed he has been receiving career advice from the most-capped goalkeeper in USMNT history, Tim Howard, since joining Fortuna Düsseldorf on loan from Manchester City in summer 2019.
Current US No.1 Steffen is enjoying his second stint in Germany, having previously played for the Freiburg reserves before returning to his homeland and breaking through at Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer (MLS).
Howard, who won 121 international caps between 2002 and 2017, also got his gloves dirty at club level in Europe, spending over a decade in the English Premier League with Everton following a four-year spell at Manchester United. He retired in October 2019 after three years on the books of Colorado Rapids, and is widely regarded as the best netminder in USA history.
"He was athletic; he was quick; he was like a cat in goal and I loved to watch him. He was massive for me," Steffen told The Philadelphia Inquirer of his long-standing admiration for Howard. "I mean, he's the one that really showed me that I could go over there, obviously come over to Europe and play.
"We've been in contact and he's offered to give me advice and kind of be a mentor for me whenever I need it, which is awesome."
With Howard in his corner, Steffen has made a big splash in the Bundesliga with Düsseldorf. The 24-year-old made 11 saves on his winning debut against Werder Bremen on the opening weekend of 2019/20, and has not missed a single minute of action all season. He's also kept two clean sheets, whilst repelling a whopping 67 attempts on his goal. Only Union Berlin counterpart Rafal Gikiewicz has stopped more (69).
It may be something of a winter of discontent for relegation-threatened Fortuna, but the Rhineland club – perched precariously above the automatic drop zone in the relegation play-off spot after 17 rounds of fixtures – would be far worse off without Steffen's efforts.
"We get a lot of shots," he added in The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I'd say I'm a good shot stopper, but we like to live on the counter. So I'm trying to improve my game in that sense, and seeing where I need to put the ball when I get the ball."
Watch: Zack Steffen's memorable Bundesliga debut in all its glory
Steffen has been successfully replicating his eye-catching domestic form on the international stage. He won 11 of his 17 senior international caps to date in the calendar year 2019, reaching the CONCACAF Gold Cup final, where the Stars and Stripes lost 1-0 to Mexico, and has also captained his country twice.
With 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers on the agenda for the Pennsylvania native later in 2020, Steffen is optimistic his country can avoid a repeat of their ill-fated 2018 qualification campaign.
"There's definitely a sense of starting over," he explained. "It’s a whole new coaching staff. And for a lot of the guys, it's a whole new way to play the sport.
"It's just kind of getting to know each other, getting to know what that person is going to do on the ball, off the ball. Becoming one, becoming a team, and really just finding who we are as a team. And that takes time."