By Michael Lewis
Add U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter to Matthew Hoppe’s growing list of admirers.
The 19-year-old striker became the first American to strike for a hat-trick in the Bundesliga during Schalke 04’s 4-0 win over Hoffenheim Saturday.
Hoppe hasn’t performed with the U.S. national team or any of the youth national teams, but you can bet he is on Berhalter’s radar now.
“It’s been fun just seeing an American score a hat-trick in the Bundesliga,” Berhalter said during a Monday Zoom call with the media. “It hasn’t been done before. So, it’s really a historic time for Matthew and for all American soccer players. It’s great to see that.
“About his performances, what I really liked is the transition moments, the moments when Schalke won the ball, space behind the defense he was able to really take advantage of that really clever movement. And then when he got into position to score goals, he finished them off with cleverness and really good effort.”
— FC Schalke 04 (@s04_en) January 12, 2021
Hat-trick hero Matthew Hoppe is not losing sight of what is important! 👊 pic.twitter.com/G5cAU97miV
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) January 9, 2021
Hoppe wasn’t the only player that Berhalter has been impressed with. He noted USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who registered back-to-back shutouts for Manchester City in two cup competitions last week after backstopping his squad’s 3-1 win at Chelsea Jan. 3. The two clean sheets were a 2-0 result at Manchester United in the League Cup Jan. 6 and a 3-0 home win over Birmingham City in the F.A. Cup Jan. 10.
“It’s been great watching a lot of Americans playing abroad,” Berhalter said. “Zack Steffen and his last games have been [two] shutouts, had some really big wins away from home. I’m really proud of him on how he’s adapted and how he’s fit into what they do. He’s looked really confident on the ball and overall made the saves he had to make. So, it was really positive performances.
Berhalter is quite familiar with Steffen, who played for the coach at Columbus Crew SC in Major League Soccer.
“When I first saw him play, the one thing I noticed was just the power and the speed, getting to shots really easily, getting two crosses really easily and just a really explosive goalkeeper,” he said. “We saw that there was a good enough technical base that we can really develop with his feet. But I think first and foremost as a shot stopper, as a power goalkeeper defending his penalty box, he was excellent. And those are those are qualities that we set out to improve when he was in Columbus. It was it was a lot of work a lot of work on Zack’s part to get better.”
In 2018, the 25-year-old Steffen was named the MLS goalkeeper of the year and to the MLS Best XI before joining Manchester City in 2019. He played in 17 games on loan to Fortuna Düsseldorf in the Bundesliga in the 2019-20 season.
“A lot of trust needed to be there because there are going to be mistakes at times, but when you see him, I was really, really proud [of what he accomplished] against Chelsea watching him play and how easily he controlled build up,” Berhalter said. “He moved out to the side to build with a four. Chelsea was pressing. He was bypassing their forwards to find a central midfielder who had time to turn. So, that was it was a really mature performance. What I’ve noticed now he really did take the next step in terms of maturity, composure.
“In the Bundesliga that helped him develop and now he’s in a place where he’s even taken another step. And you can see that with his play; very calm very collected. He’s still a young goalkeeper.”