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Former Union youth player Zack Steffen signs with Columbus Crew

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One of the top young U.S. goalkeeping prospects is returning to the states to play for one of the Union's rivals.

England U21 v USA U23 - International Match Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images

Zack Steffen is coming back to the U.S., but it won’t be with his local club.

Instead, the goalkeeper who spent time in the Philadelphia Union’s youth setup in its "club and country" days will be playing seven hours away for rival Columbus Crew SC.

The Crew unexpectedly announced the signing of the 21-year-old from Downingtown Friday morning. Though he’s spent time in the U.S. youth national team system, he was not subject to the allocation process other U.S. national team players have had to go through and instead was signed off the Crew’s discovery list.

Steffen played locally in the U.S. Development Academy for Continental FC Delco and helped the Union win the 2012 Generation adidas Cup. He spent two seasons at the University of Maryland - playing in the 2013 College Cup final in Chester his freshman year - before signing with SC Freiburg in Germany in December 2014.

He made 14 appearances for SC Freiburg’s reserve team and was reportedly in line to make the first team this year in the club’s return to top flight football.

"I’m very thrilled to have my family six hours away and friends six hours away," Steffen said in a phone interview on the Crew website. "I’ve always known Columbus as a powerhouse in the MLS and I’ve heard very, very good things about Greg and Pat the two coaches."

Steffen was reportedly never offered a contract by the Union before going to Germany and likely hadn’t spent enough time in the system to qualify as a homegrown (the Union Academy didn’t have full-time teams playing in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy or a nearby private high school like it does now). There was also, as any fan of the team is still trying to forget, a stockpile of goalkeepers at the time.

Still, seeing him sign with a rival was not a great way to start the weekend.