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USMNT GK Steffen's Back Tightness Puts World Cup Qualifying Availability in Doubt

It turns out that Zack Steffen's absence from Manchester City's matchday squad over the weekend could have a residual effect on the U.S. men's national team.

The goalkeeper, who has started the U.S.'s last three World Cup qualifying matches, experienced back tightness that kept him from his usual role as Ederson's backup, U.S. Soccer disclosed on Tuesday. As a result, he has yet to travel to Columbus, Ohio, to join the U.S. training camp ahead of three key qualifiers, and while U.S. Soccer is calling him "day-to-day," it would seem most likely that Matt Turner will take charge as the starter once again.

Turner started the U.S.'s first five qualifiers, as Steffen missed out with a back injury and COVID-19, and he faced the three opponents the U.S. has on the docket for this coming window: El Salvador, Canada and Honduras. The U.S. did carry four goalkeepers to camp this week, with NYCFC's Sean Johnson and the Chicago Fire's Gabriel Slonina also available. Slonina, 17, is uncapped, while Johnson, the 2021 MLS Cup MVP, is more likely to be Turner's backup should Steffen be unavailable for any or all of the next three games.

Turner has been sure-handed for the U.S. in goal. A reported Arsenal transfer target, Turner backstopped the U.S. to the Gold Cup over the summer, winning Golden Glove honors along the way as the competition's top goalkeeper, and he set a USMNT record with nine clean sheets in a calendar year. He is also the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.

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He posted a 2-1-2 record in his five qualifying starts, conceding three goals and posting two clean sheets. A moment that sticks out is a key save of his in Honduras. Fresh off two draws, the U.S. needed a result in San Pedro Sula to avoid an early qualifying derailment, and with the match level at 1–1, Turner's diving stop prevented the hosts from retaking the lead. Ricardo Pepi scored 11 minutes later, and the U.S. added two more goals to stabilize on the road to Qatar. 

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