Detroit City FC's Nate Steinwascher seizes command of No. 1 goalkeeping job

Larry O'Connor
The Detroit News
Nate Steinwascher has seized the No. 1 goalkeeper's job during Detroit City FC's Members Cup run.

Nate Steinwascher is moonlighting for Detroit City FC and lately the goalkeeper is flashing orbital shapes in the form of shutouts. In doing do, he's wrapped his hands around one job that's been eluding him for three years.

The former University of Detroit Mercy standout, who is a CPA by day in Southfield accounting firm Plante Moran’s Transaction Advisory Services department, has three clean sheets in National Premier Soccer League Members Cup play for unbeaten DCFC (4-0-1), which faces Chattanooga FC (3-3-2) on Saturday at Finley Stadium. Kickoff is 6 p.m.

Steinwascher’s latest shutout came in last weekend 3-0 drubbing of last-place Napa Valley 1839 FC. It was the second time this season the former Sterling Heights Stevenson shot stopper blanked the California side in the fall tournament. He also backstopped DCFC in a 1-0 victory over Milwaukee.

Aside from unblemished scoresheets, Steinwascher’s standout performance came in a 1-1 draw against the iconic Cosmos B on Sept. 21 at Keyworth Stadium where the netminder pulled off superlative saves on a pair of heat-sinking free kicks to go along with a handful of sensational stops.

The display erased any doubts of Steinwascher’s ability to be DCFC’s undisputed No. 1 goalkeeper.

Due to work commitments and other factors, the Horizon League 2014 Goalkeeper and Defensive Player of the Year has never been able to lock down the starting job. Steinwascher's game has evolved, though, a teammate said. 

“The main thing I've seen in the change is that he's fully confident in his own ability right now,” said DCFC captain and defender Stephen Carroll. “So he's producing all these masterful saves and he's doing all these things at the right time.

“There's nothing worse for a center back than to be in front of someone that's not confident in his own ability. I trust him to do the right thing if I give him the ball. If I hear a shout from him or a command from him, like I trust him to do it, so that all comes down to his confidence and giving the orders and executing.”

For two seasons in 2017 and ’18, Steinwascher played in the shadows of Fernando Pina. This spring, he was relegated to third choice as first-year coach Trevor James brought in Hunter Morse and Owen Finnerty.

Steinwascher had a day job, and that came first, which he explained to James. 

DCFC goalie Nate Steinwascher pushes a shot past the goal post for a save in a penalty shootout against the Michigan Bucks in 2018.

"We're both under the understanding that I had to find a way to make a living and he had find a goalkeeper that was going to be full-time," he said. "Trevor was great from the start. From the day I met him, I kind of laid it on him. I told him I was interested, and I would have loved to be involved from the start, but then I had to get the job. I had to find a way to make money, so I did that.”

Steinwascher started DCFC’s first two regular season matches, 1-0 victory over Michigan Stars May 12 and a 3-2 setback to Kalamazoo FC May 19.

Le Rouge then went on a 12-game unbeaten run with Morse and Finnerty splitting duties with the team winning the NPSL Great Lakes Conference Division title.

Young guns

When Morse (Michigan State) and Finnerty (Michigan) returned to school, James brought in goalkeepers Cristian Blanco and Armando Quezeda as replacements for the NPSL Members Cup. Steinwascher understood.

Steinwascher was able to get Thursdays off from his employer to train with DCFC, which made a big difference.

In the process, Steinwascher feels he’s earned his coach's trust.

“I feel it. I feel the confidence he has in me,” he said. I feel all the confidence the guys have in me. That definitely helps when you have the guys pushing for you, keeping you up, pulling you up when you are down, I think that's part of being a team. I think that's part of why I can't step away from the game regardless of how many times I go find a job or do this or do that."

Carroll feels the keeper’s presence is a bonus at training sessions.

“Everyone loves him there because he's such a good goalkeeper and makes big saves in training, but he's also a big personality on the team,” the defender said. “So, everyone loves when Nate comes to training when he's able to come. When he's there, he's always full of life and happy and brings a bit of atmosphere as well.”

Steinwascher, 26, didn’t garner his confidence without some self-discovery. For that, he went to Central America and then Scandinavia.

Through SoccerViza, Steinwascher traveled to Costa Rica in July 2018 as part of a team of professional hopefuls. The outfit played first and second division teams with hopes of getting noticed by pro scouts.

Steinwascher, who registered 19 shutouts and 27 career wins at UD-Mercy, was invited to play for fourth division Swedish outfit Grythyttans IF. He joined the club that was fighting for promotion, playing in nine matches.

Steinwascher was one of seven players, all Americans, sharing a four-bedroom apartment, in a town of 891 people.

The club covered food and housing. They had the use of bikes for travel. A 45-minute bus ride to the nearest city cost $30, Steinwascher said.

“We were just scraping by at that point,” said Steinwascher, whose Grythyttans IF teammate Pat Sullivan is training with DCFC. “It was whatever you went over with in terms of spending money.”

Players kept themselves busy training two to three times a day.

More:Detroit City FC to add women's team in 2020

About 50 people attended matches at the Orebro County club, which won the league and earned promotion with 11 U.S. players including Steinwascher on the roster.

“You can imagine playing half the summer before 5, 6, 7,000 fans a game with Detroit City FC and then going to the middle of a nowhere Swedish town — it was a really nice grass pitch that we played on — but when you looked around all you see is an apartment building on your right and the woods on your left,” Steinwascher said. “To live and breathe football and not have anything else to worry about was a great experience.”

The payoff for players like Steinwascher was a shot to remain with the team and earn a salary or be picked up by another club. No such offer came, though.

Instead, he returned home and pursued tryouts while getting back with his previous employer, which has fostered his pro dreams. Steinwascher left his auditing job with Plante Moran’s blessing to go overseas.

“I couldn’t be more grateful for how understanding they were and, at the same time, how excited they were for me to take the opportunity,” said Steinwascher, who is engaged to Catie Murray. The couple plans a September 2020 wedding. “They said I would be crazy not to do it. They knew how passionate I was about taking the opportunity.”

Despite not being the anointed first choice keeper, Steinwascher has been between the sticks for DCFC’s most memorable moments.

His debut for Le Rouge came in a 2016 U.S. Open Cup match against Louisville City FC, which DCFC lost on penalty kicks after a 1-1 stalemate.

He also was in net for DCFC’s first match at Keyworth before 7,410 fans on May 20, 2016, which ended in a 1-1 draw to AFC Ann Arbor.

Steinwascher’s shining moment, though, was a penalty kick shootout win over the Michigan Bucks in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup.

With clarity, he recalls diving to the right and extending his arm as far as he could. He remembers the ball touching his hand but also looking back into the net because the penalty kick was so well struck he thought for sure it was in.

Steinwascher savors the moment, but only if it will be a frame on a growing film reel.  

"I think I've enjoyed every game I've played for this club, to be honest," he said.

Twitter: @larryo1961

Detroit City FC at Chattanooga FC

Kickoff: 6 p.m. Saturday, Finley Stadium, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Note: Detroit City Clubhouse will host a watch party.