USMNT Stock Watch: Healthy again, Zack Steffen is back at the top of his game

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/players/751598/" data-ylk="slk:Zack Steffen">Zack Steffen</a> has been a the most sure-handed keeper in MLS this season, and he's now fully recovered from the hamstring injury that forced him to miss a pair of U.S. games last month. (Joe Maiorana/Reuters)
Zack Steffen has been a the most sure-handed keeper in MLS this season, and he's now fully recovered from the hamstring injury that forced him to miss a pair of U.S. games last month. (Joe Maiorana/Reuters)

It would’ve been easy to include U.S. men’s national team headliners Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie in the top half of this week’s rundown, what with the two Germany-based 20-year-olds back in training with their respective clubs earlier than expected after getting injured while representing their country last month.

But given that U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter is taking a wait-and-see approach with both players, it probably makes sense for us to do the same. “We’ve been in constant contact with them and we’re aware of where their status is,” Berhalter told Yahoo Sports last week. “I think for both of them, now it’s about progressing in the right way, carefully, so that they get on the field safely and can fully contribute before the season is over.”

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McKennie and Pulisic aren’t the only blue-chip youngsters trying to get back on the field and earn some valuable minutes ahead of this summer’s all-important CONCACAF Gold Cup; Tyler Adams, the Americans’ other 20-year-old Bundesliga standout, remains out with an adductor problem.

Plenty of other Americans are excelling in their day jobs right now, though, especially in MLS. It’s even more encouraging that the list includes USMNT regulars and long-term prospects alike. We check in on some of the most notable emerging storylines below.

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G Zack Steffen, Columbus Crew (MLS)

Steffen has been a model of consistency in backstopping the stingiest team in the East so far; he’s conceded just twice in his six games, with a save percentage that is a league best (by far) 91-percent.

Takeaway: Perhaps more important, the 24-year-old Manchester City-bound keeper is now fully healthy after a nagging hamstring injury forced him to miss one league contest plus last month’s international matches against South American foes Ecuador and Chile. After Saturday’s 1-0 loss in Montreal, Steffen insisted that his hammy is “all good” now.

F Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC (MLS)

Altidore’s hot run of form following offseason ankle surgery continues. On Saturday, he netted both TFC goals – his fourth and fifth in his last four games – in a 3-2 loss in Seattle. The second finish in particular was top-class:

Takeaway: Seemingly the only thing that can stop Altidore right now is an injury. “Jozy’s a guy we brought into January camp for a brief period for a reason: to keep him involved in what we’re doing,” Berhalter said. “We think he can be an important part of our team.”

D Daniel Lovitz, Montreal Impact (MLS)

Lovitz parlayed a strong January camp into an even better start for Montreal. The 27-year-old has played every minute of the club’s opening seven matches, and has done so with a noticeable swagger.

Takeaway: Greg Garza’s loss (more on that later) has been Lovitz’s gain so far, and it might just be enough to give the former Toronto FC reserve the inside track on Garza for a Gold Cup roster spot.

M Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders (MLS)

Now in his fifth MLS season, Roldan has added some attacking flair to his already sound defensive game. His crossing has been dangerous all year, and he picked up his first goal of 2019 on a well-executed strike against Toronto:

Takeaway: Roldan might be a reserve on the USMNT when everyone is healthy, but McKennie’s understudy has cemented his spot within the larger squad for now.

G Jesse Gonzalez, FC Dallas (MLS)

Gonzalez has quietly put together a strong first five weeks of the season for FCD.

Takeaway: We knew the 23-year-old is on Berhalter’s radar; the technically sound Gonzalez was added to the USMNT roster during last month’s camp after Steffen withdrew. Could he edge Sean Johnson (more on Johnson later, too) for the third string job this summer.

D Erik Palmer-Brown, NAC Breda (Netherlands)

Palmer-Brown scored his first goal for the Dutch club on Friday, helping last place Breda pick up a needed point versus Emmen.

Takeaway: The Manchester City loanee has shown considerable resilience this season, which is no small achievement for a player trying to establish himself in Europe. He’s not a Gold Cup sqaud candidate – the former Sporting Kansas City academy player will be a vital part of the U.S. U-23 team that will attempt to qualify this fall for next year’s Olympics – but after an up and down season he’s positioning himself to end his Eredivisie turn on a high note.

M Chris Durkin, D.C. United (MLS)

The 19-year-old, for whom United reportedly turned down an offer from German club Bayer Leverkusen, celebrated his first start of the season with a well-taken goal.

Takeaway: Durkin will be a key player for the U.S. under-20s when the U-20 World Cup kicks off in Poland next month. An athletic defensive midfielder who started 16 games as a rookie, the six-foot Virginia native is still very much a project. But he has the tools to potentially break into the senior team player pool in the years to come, and perhaps before this cycle is out.

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Veteran defender Omar Gonzalez (left) recently lost his staring job with Liga MX side Atlas. (Anthony Vazquez/AP)
Veteran defender Omar Gonzalez (left) recently lost his staring job with Liga MX side Atlas. (Anthony Vazquez/AP)

D/M DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle (England)

Yedlin lost his place for the second time this season, sitting out the Magpies most recent game – Friday’s 1-win at Leicester -- after conceding the penalty that cost Rafa Benitez’s team all three points April 7 against Crystal Palace.

Takeaway: The last time Benitz dropped Yedlin, in late February, the 25-year-old put his head down and won his starting job back within two weeks. Berhalter will be hoping that the experienced Seattle native quickly reveres his fortunes this time, too.

D Omar Gonzalez, Atlas (Mexico)

A run of 10 consecutive starts for Atlas got the 30-year-old got called in by his former LA Galaxy center back partner in March. He also started against Chile. But Gonzalez struggled mightily in that match, and he hasn’t played a minute for a bad Atlas side since.

Takeaway: As much as Berhalter values Gonzalez’s experience and leadership with a young team, it’s hard to see the 2014 World Cup alum being considered for the Gold Cup roster if he continues to sit.

D Greg Garza, Cincinnati (MLS)

Garza didn’t accompany FCC to Los Angeles for Saturday’s 2-0 loss to LAFC “after tweaking his calf in training,” according to the club.

Takeaway: While that description doesn’t sound overly alarming, the timing isn’t great for the combative left back, who could now be in serious danger of losing his Gold Cup spot to Lovitz.

G Sean Johnson, New York City (MLS)

Johnson, who started the Americans 1-0 win over Ecuador last month, scored one of the most spectacular own goals you will ever see in Saturday’s 3-3 tie with Minnesota United:

Takeaway: Berhalter isn’t going to hold one mistake against Johnson and he shouldn’t, no matter how egregious. Yet the fact remains that Johnson has been gaffe-prone throughout his career. And as much as he’s gotten better with his feet since joining NYCFC in 2017, he’s still not as comfortable as U.S. teammates Steffen or Ethan Horvath.

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