Zack Steffen will backstop the USMNT vs. Jamaica. (© Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

One goalkeeper has played in every league game in which he has been eligible while the other rarely performs for his club team, except for an occasional match or cup encounter.

One keeper recorded five shutouts en route to the Concacaf Gold Cup title while the other, like many European-based players, was given a rest between his club seasons.

Matt Turner manned the nets for the first five World Cup qualifiers for the U.S. men’s national team before Zack Steffen was given the starting nod against Costa Rica.

Steffen will start against Jamaica in the final WCQ of 2021 in Kingston, Jamaica on Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET (Paramount+).

“It was a difficult decision,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It wasn’t something that, was easy based on how we thought Matt was playing. He played really well on the Gold Cup. In qualifying gave two goals in these five games. And it was more we’re looking at the games and how they’re unfolding.”

Steffen got the nod because head coach Gregg Berhalter felt the team needed better possession when the team wants to build out of the back.

“There’s a number of possessions that we can be keeping in these games that we’re not,” Berhalter said. “We think Zack is stronger than his feet. We made that decision based on that. They’re two very high-level goalkeepers. There’s not much separating them but in this particular area where we think it was an area of need. We thought Zach was the head and so we made that decision.”

Turner, 27, one of three finalists for MLS goalkeeper, has played and started 28 matches for the Supporters Shield-winning New England Revolution.

Steffen, 26, on the other hand, has had a difficult time finding time in the net for Manchester City in the English Premier League since the season kicked off in August. He has played but twice – once in the league and another time in a cup competition.

This isn’t the first time a USMNT head coach has been faced with making a decision between two No. 1 goalkeepers. When he directed the team that qualified for the 2002 World Cup, current New England Revolution head coach Bruce Arena had quality goalies in Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel. He played them both, although he used Friedel at the 2002 World Cup after Keller suffered an injury.

When asked who his top keeper was, Berhalter felt the competition for that spot is very close. New York City FC GK Sean Johnson is the third keeper on the squad.

“II think when you look get the choice of Zack to play in the Mexico game, you could infer that he’s ahead of Matt, then that would be normal to infer,” the coach said, “but what I’d say is that it’s also up to Zack keeping this form we’re not hesitant to change goalkeepers. That’s not something we’re adverse. We know that the competition is really tight and [they] are pushing each other. I think that’s a good thing. Add Sean Johnson into the mix and other guys … Ethan Horvath, how he performed the Nation’s League [final], we want competition for spots.”

For center back Walker Zimmerman, it doesn’t matter who plays in the net. He has been comfortable with both players.

“Honestly, I mean, we’re so lucky we have two amazing goalkeepers,” he said. “Both of my experiences with them have been amazing, positive. Both are very competitive, very communication oriented. They’re always tuned in, always trying to, whether it’s subtle comments in between plays or instruction as the game is going on. Both are great at organizing the team and so I’ve upmost confidence with either of them.”

Zimmerman does have an advantage with his ability to play with his feet. But don’t count out Turner.

“Well, I think I think Zack has certainly is very good with his feet,” he said. “But that’s not to say Matt isn’t. Matt has grown in a lot of ways over the past two years and his confidence has got to be at an all-time high. I was joking around with him with he had the summer of his life, all the career goals, the Shield, all this. And he gets the number one pick in our fantasy league. So, I mean, this guy can’t do anything wrong right now. Both amazing keepers and both certainly worthy of being caught up in every camp.”

Right now, Steffen is No. 1, but stay tuned for the six remaining qualifying matches in 2022.