It’s a big week for goalkeepers Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC) and Joe Willis (Houston Dynamo) as their teams enter the first leg of the conference championships in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs on Tuesday. But it’s an equally important moment for youth players in their communities as every save during the conference championships and the MLS Cup final will bring two new soccer nets to fields in their city. It’s all part of a special program from Allstate, a sponsor with a storied history in the American game.
“A lot of kids don’t have all the gear and the opportunities that I did when I played youth soccer,” Steffen noted. “It’s an amazing feeling knowing that for every save they will put up two goals in Columbus.”
“It’s a great feeling. As a pro athlete, that is where we all got our start. Being on the soccer field was my happy place. Any chance we have to give back is huge. For the kids of Houston, it means a lot.”
Houston has experienced a strange year, a roller coaster of highs and lows. A World Series title for the Astros was an obvious plus, but hurricanes and floods were devastating and tragic to say the least.
“We want to contribute as much joy to this community as possible,” Willis added. “We want to give them something to rally around.”
Columbus has experienced challenges of a much different variety as talk of a move to Austin, Texas has crippled the soccer community in Central Ohio. Yet the focus should and will be on the field on Tuesday before the series wraps up next week.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Steffen said of Crew SC’s match against Toronto FC. “We will need to be on our game and focused for 90+ minutes. We need to stick to our gameplan.”
Willis knows his team will face a challenge as well.
“This will be a tough matchup. Seattle has a complete team. They are solid defensively and have lots of options going forward. But we are our confident in ourselves. We need to impose our gameplan on them and get after them early.”
Despite the challenges, both Columbus and Houston have a lot going for them. That kind of confidence is incredibly important at this stage of the postseason.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Steffen added when asked about his team’s impressive form as of late. “Our hard work has paid off. We have been working so hard since missing the playoffs last year. It’s thrilling, having the belief that we are the best team in MLS. We don’t want our season to end. We want to leave everything on the field.”
Willis feels good about his team’s chances moving forward.
“It is one of the bigger matches of my career, but we are looking at it as another step, another game. Our main goal is winning the MLS Cup.”
Fans of the two teams will be ready to show their support.
“We are excited to bring another game to Columbus for our fans,” Steffen continued. “They are going to get up for this one. They are going to bring the noise.”
While MAPFRE Stadium will be rocking, Willis says we should expect a similar scene at BBVA Compass Stadium.
“Seattle should be expecting a lot of noise. It is going to be a sellout for our last home game of the season.”
There’s quite a good chance that these two keepers will face off in the MLS Cup final. In that case, fans will be treated to quite a goalkeeping display as two of the league’s best would face off.
Steffen has already amazed crowds with a dominant performance against Atlanta United, a game where his penalty kick saves made all the difference.
“It was a proud moment for me, but the guys in front of me did their job. I had to step up and do my part.”
Steffen did just that in arguably the top goalkeeper performance of the season. The Downington, PA native has done so much for Crew SC this season, starting 37 games and amassing 112 saves and 10 shutouts in 3,360 minutes of play.
Willis has made the most of his opportunities in 2017, compiling two shutouts and 20 saves in nine starts.
Regardless of the results in the conference championships, soccer fans will enjoy some great goalkeeping and charitable work all at the same time.