United States Men's National Team goalkeeper Zack Steffen (right) and U-20 National Team midfielder Alex Mendez - both alums of the USL Championship - were honored by U.S. Soccer this week for their standout years on the international stage.
CHICAGO – A pair of players whose time in the USL Championship helped provide a platform for future success were honored by U.S. Soccer this week with current United States Men’s National Team goalkeeper Zack Steffen claiming the federation’s Male Player of the Year award and United States U-20 National Team standout Alex Mendez taking the Young Male Player of the Year honor.
A former loanee with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in the Championship after his return from Europe in 2016, Steffen claimed the award after a remarkable year that saw him make his first six full national team appearances and produce impressive displays in a 1-1 draw against current FIFA World Cup champion France and a 1-0 victory this September against Mexico.
Steffen made nine appearances for the Hounds on loan from Columbus Crew SC late in the 2016 USL Championship campaign, and used the opportunity as a springboard to claim Crew SC’s starting position at the start of the 2017 Major League Soccer season.
“Being a goalkeeper, you need to get games and get experiences from those games and be put in all types of situations to learn and get better and grow, especially when you’re younger,” Steffen told USLChampionship.com’s John Arlia earlier this year. “Pittsburgh was pretty close and our affiliate at the time, so it was good to come back to the U.S. and feel settled and be able to get games.”
The 23-year-old capped his 2018 by claiming Major League Soccer’s Goalkeeper of the Year award, and with the announcement that he would join the Premier League’s Manchester City from Columbus Crew SC this coming July, continuing his remarkable ascent in the soccer world.
Steffen edged out another USL Championship alum for the annual honor, with 2016 USL Cup-winner Tyler Adams – who three years ago was the first signing in New York Red Bulls II history – finishing second in the poll that included votes 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, American soccer league (MLS and USL) head coaches for the MNT, and select media members and former players and administrators.
Mendez claimed the Young Male Player of the Year award after a year that saw him score his first professional goal for the LA Galaxy II in the USL Championship, and then go on to claim the Golden Ball as the best player at the 2018 Concacaf U-20 Championship last month at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
The 18-year-old recorded one goal and three assists in 12 appearances as an Academy signing for Los Dos over the past two seasons and scored his first professional goal for the side against Seattle Sounders FC 2 on July 1. More recently, he signed with Bundesliga side SC Freiberg, and notched eight goals and six assists while leading the United States U-20 National Team to its second consecutive regional championship.
“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.”