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SSFC Spotlight: Patrick Schulte assumes starting role in Columbus

The goalkeeper beat out a veteran for the number one spot.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

With the United States Men’s Under-23 Men’s National Team having qualified for the Olympic Games for the first time since 2008, there exists a bridge for certain players to contribute to the program before ideally rising to the senior level. The goalkeeper position is of particular interest, as a steady hand is required as a guide through tournament play, which typically results in an overage talent being utilized in the spot. A name to watch is Patrick Schulte, who is enjoying a breakthrough season with Columbus Crew SC. The 22-year-old grabbed the reins for the playoff-bound club and is yet to surrender them.

Born in St. Charles, Missouri, Schulte competed with the Saint Louis FC academy and Francis Howell High School, earning Best XI honors from the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. His youth career included a training stint in the Netherlands with Feyenoord, which was a “culture shock” and instilled an understanding of the level of commitment required to succeed at the professional level. Promoted on an academy contract to the St. Louis first team, he started and made three penalty saves in a shootout victory over Des Moines Menace in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and continued to appear in the match-day squad throughout the summer.

“It was unbelievable,” a teenaged Schulte said after the Open Cup victory. “I can’t describe the feeling of being able to play in it. I thank my coaches for giving me the opportunity and having the trust in me. Going into the game I was super nervous and all that, but I credit my teammates for calming me down and telling me: ‘Oh we have trust in you and go be you.’ After all that, it just started to be another game.”

Schulte stayed local and matriculated to the historic Saint Louis University program. He became a starter his freshman season and racked up a host of awards with the Billikens including Atlantic Ten Defensive Player of the Year, First-Team All-Conference, All-Region, and A-10 Championship Most Outstanding Player. In his third season, the school reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. During the summer of 2021, the goalkeeper competed with St. Louis Scott Gallagher in the USL League Two.

Following three years in the collegiate ranks, Major League Soccer signed Schulte to a Generation Adidas contract — Columbus Crew SC selected him with the 12th pick in the SuperDraft, initially viewing him as a medium-term developmental prospect. In his first professional season, he played with the reserve team in MLS Next Pro and made 18 total appearances, leading Crew 2 to the regular season and playoff championships with a 4-1 victory over St. Louis 2 in the final. For his efforts, the rookie was awarded Goalkeeper of the Month for August, Goalkeeper of the Year, and a spot on the league’s Best XI. Observers were impressed by his ability to “dominate the box, organize the defense, and stop shots” while adapting to the faster speed of play.

Engaging in a preseason positional battle with veteran Eloy Room, Schulte opened the schedule in the starting lineup, playing in a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union. After a few weeks on the bench, he returned to the number one role, which he has held for 28 league and cup matches. The goalkeeper even registered an assist in August to clinch a 2-0 victory over Toronto FC, noting that his boldness and confidence are growing with each passing week while adapting to a higher level of play. The Crew are comfortably coasting toward a playoff spot, with his performances a key aspect.

At the international level, Schulte received multiple call-ups for the United States for the USMNT U-18 and U-20 teams. His most recent inclusion came in January of 2020, although an invitation to January camp could be in the cards. With a March 2001 birthday, he will be available for the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris.

Standing a little under 6’4”, Schulte possesses prototypical height for a goalkeeper and is “really good with his feet,” with a “lovely left foot” that allows him to play out of the back. He is one of MLS’ most-active players during the build-up phase and is quick to engage with the opponent during breakaways. His work in training is focused on being “braver” with his passing and increasing comfort in leaving his line to corral crosses.

Schulte thrives as a distributor in the Crew’s possession-based system, which he credits to his multi-sport background and playing point guard. “[Manager] Wilfried [Nancy] stresses keeping the ball and being calm and composed and just having confidence,” shared the goalkeeper in a press conference. “I played a lot of sports growing up: basketball, baseball, golf… I credit a lot to basketball, just the fast pace, the agility, the movements of basketball because I played that until I was a senior in high school. That kind of calms the game down to me in a way just because it’s so fast paced and now being a [goalkeeper] is a little more relaxed. Just in reading the game as well, trying to read it at a field player’s perspective rather than at a goalkeeper’s perspective at times.”

The competition among young American goalkeepers is becoming crowded, which is a good problem for a national team program to shoulder. With his performance this season, Schulte might earn an invitation to January camp and receive the opportunity to demonstrate his potential use to Gregg Berhalter. Whether this leads to inclusion with the U-23 group in the run-up to the Olympics remains to be seen, but, at the very least, he appears on track for a long and productive career.