Zack Steffen celebrates Columbus’ first-leg win over the Red Bulls in the MLS Cup Playoffs. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)
U.S. Soccer Tuesday announced that goalkeeper Zack Steffen was named male player of the year and midfielder Alex Mendez as the young male player of the year.
The 25th different player to win the award, Steffen became the second player in the award’s 35-year history to earn the honor in his debut year with the U.S. men’s national team, following Peter Vermes in 1988. Steffen also was became the fourth goalkeeper to attain the honor after Kasey Keller (1997, 1999, 2005), Tim Howard (2008, 2014) and Brad Friedel (2002). At 23, he is also the youngest goalkeeper to win that honor.
“It’s an honor to be put with those names that have won before me and to have the respect and confidence from teammates, coaches and staff,” Steffen said. “I’m thankful for my support system. Without them I couldn’t have done any of this. It gives me motivation and confidence to keep going and do bigger and better things.”
Votes for U.S. Soccer Player of the Year awards are collected from respective national team coaches, national team players who earned a cap in 2018, members of the U.S. Soccer board of directors, U.S. Soccer Athletes’ Council, National Women’s Soccer League head coaches for the USWNT and American soccer league (MLS and USL) head coaches for the USMNT, select media members and former players and administrators.
The voting margins for both honors with Steffen receiving 44 percent of the tabulated votes, followed by Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams (38 percent). Weston McKennie rounded out the top three with 16 percent.
For young male athlete of the year, Mendez garnered 43 percent of the vote, followed by Mark McKenzie and Giovanni Reyna who each had 18 percent.
One of 20 players to debut during 2018, Steffen stood out among his fellow first-timers. He led all goalkeepers with six appearances, which tied him with Keller (1990) and Troy Perkins (2009) for most caps by an USMNT backstop during his debut year. Steffen kept clean sheets in the team’s 1-0 victories against Paraguay March 27 in Cary, N.C. and Mexico Sept. 11 in Nashville, Tenn. His shining moment came against France in Lyon June 9, where he made eight saves to help the USA to a 1-1 draw in Les Bleus’ last match before their title run at the World Cup.
Steffen continued to impress during his second full season with Columbus Crew SC, keeping 10 shutouts in 29 matches while registering a 12-10-7 record to earn MLS goalkeeper of the year honors and helping the club return to the MLS Cup Playoffs. As he did in 2017, Steffen came up huge again in the postseason, saving two penalty kicks to push Columbus past D.C. United in its shootout victory during the knockout round Nov. 1. Steffen will play the first half of the 2019 MLS season with Columbus before completing a transfer to English Premier League giants Manchester City in July.
Mendez led the U.S. Under-20team to the Concacaf U-20 Championship title last month, taking home the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player at 18, as well as finishing second in the tournament’s Golden Boot race with eight goals to go along with six assists. While the U-20s had no trouble finding the back of the net in Florida, his scoring came at the team’s most crucial junctures. He scored both goals in the 2-0 final victory over Mexico and netted the opening goal in the 4-0 win past Costa Rica to clinch a place at the 2019 U-20 World Cup. Mendez appeared in 13 of 14 international matches and will serve as a key figure for the team as it prepares for next summer’s tournament in Poland.
At the club level, Mendez captained LA Galaxy to the U-18/19 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Championship final and was named to the Western Conference Best XI. He scored five goals during the team’s six-game playoff run, including a free kick from outside the penalty area in a deadlocked semifinal against Vancouver Whitecaps FC to send the Galaxy to the final. Mendez also made his professional debut in 2018, appearing in six games for LA Galaxy II of the USL Championship, during which he netted his first professional goal on another free kick on July 1. In October, the midfielder signed with German club SC Freiburg, where he will be eligible to begin play in January 2019. Following Christian Pulisic (2016) and Josh Sargent (2017), the 18-year-old is the third straight young male player of the year winner to sign for a club in Germany as a teenager.
“It’s a very proud moment,” Mendez said. “First, I want to thank U.S. Soccer for the nomination. I also want to thank my family, my teammates and the U-20 squad that won the Concacaf Championship. Obviously, this is an individual award, but none of this would be possible without them pushing me to be a better player.”
A player can only win the young player honor once in his career.
The male player of the year has been awarded since 1984, when midfielder Rick Davis earned the honor. U.S. Soccer began awarding young player of the year in 1998, with Josh Wolff taking the award.
Previous winners of both awards:
|Year||Male Player of the Year||Young Male Player of the Year|
|2018||Zack Steffen||Alex Mendez|
|2017||Christian Pulisic||Josh Sargent|
|2016||Jozy Altidore (2)||Christian Pulisic|
|2015||Michael Bradley||Matt Miazga|
|2014||Tim Howard (2)||DeAndre Yedlin|
|2013||Jozy Altidore||Wil Trapp|
|2012||Clint Dempsey (3)||Rubio Rubin|
|2011||Clint Dempsey (2)||Brek Shea|
|2010||Landon Donovan (4)||Gale Agbossoumonde|
|2009||Landon Donovan (3)||Luis Gil|
|2008||Tim Howard||Sacha Kljestan|
|2007||Clint Dempsey||Michael Bradley|
|2006||Oguchi Onyewu||Jozy Altidore|
|2005||Kasey Keller (3)||Benny Feilhaber|
|2004||Landon Donovan (2)||Eddie Johnson|
|2003||Landon Donovan||Freddy Adu|
|2002||Brad Friedel||Bobby Convey|
|2001||Earnie Stewart||DaMarcus Beasley|
|2000||Chris Armas||Landon Donovan|
|1999||Kasey Keller (2)||Ben Olsen|
|1998||Cobi Jones||Josh Wolff|
|1994||Marcelo Balboa (2)||–|
|1985||Perry Van der Beck||–|