LONDON — In some ways, Ethan Horvath is still crazy young for a goalkeeper. At a position where it’s not uncommon to be serviceable north of 40 years old, the Colorado native, 23, remains a long way from reaching his prime.
By other measures, Horvath can no longer be considered a prospect. He’s already a good bit older than U.S. teammates Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, who at 20 are automatic starters on the rebuilding American squad that will face England in Thursday’s high-profile friendly at Wembley Stadium. Horvath is among just seven players on the current USMNT roster who was also on the squad that finished fourth at the 2016 Copa America Centenario. And he’s desperate to take on a bigger role for a national team lacking an undisputed No. 1 at what historically has been its strongest spot.
“In the beginning it was just about getting to know the group, the system,” Horvath told Yahoo Sports in an interview here this week. “Now I have a ton of experience: Europa League, Champions League, being called in to the national team consistently. If I play on Thursday, I will be ready.”
Ah yes, games. For all of Horvath’s obvious potential — last week, his six saves helped Club Brugge post a clean sheet at Monaco in the UEFA Champions League group stage — consistent playing time has been elusive the last couple of years. The most recent of his two career caps came exactly 12 months ago. And he’s reclaimed his starting job with Brugge in recent weeks after sitting out 13 of 14 games before that and also losing his place for a six-month stretch last season, although he did return to the lineup in time to help Brugge win the league title.
“I thought it was a bit unfair how everything unfolded,” said Horvath, who sought advice from friends, family and former coaches, including ex-USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann, during his time on the sidelines. “You just have to take it. There wasn’t much explaining to me at all, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was probably the longest six to eight months of my career.”
It didn’t help matters that in last November’s 1-1 tie with Portugal, which marked the Americans’ first game since their epic failure to reach the 2018 World Cup, Horvath made an error that resulted in a goal.
“It happens, but of course in the next days I thought about it,” said Horvath, who received a pep talk from Pulisic, his close friend and roommate with the U.S., after the match. “I think if you look at that game overall, I can be happy with how I performed.”
Still, it has been fellow 23-year-old Zack Steffen, not Horvath, who has emerged as the next great U.S. goalkeeping hope, following the likes of World Cup standouts Tim Howard, Brad Friedel and Tony Meola. Then Steffen withdrew from this roster because of a hamstring injury. That cracked the door open for Horvath, who will likely split the final two U.S. games of the year with veteran Brad Guzan. The Americans meet Italy in Belgium next week.
“The margins between Brad and Zack and a few others are fairly thin,” interim coach Dave Sarachan said Wednesday. “Ethan’s been playing quite well for Club Brugge … it’s good to have some good competition there.”
Like Horvath, Guzan wants to play. The 34-year-old served as Howard’s understudy at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and he’s not going to go quietly, not with the chance to lead the U.S. to Qatar 2022 very much up for grabs.
“You’re there to do a job and compete at the highest level,” said Guzan, who spent a decade in the Premier League before joining Atlanta United last year. “Every day you have to bring it. That’s what it’s about. You try and help guys where you can. You’re there if they want to talk, but at the same time I’m not here to babysit them being the senior guy. It’s about pushing guys in the right way.”
Still, Guzan has been impressed by Horvath’s resilience. “It’s good to see him continuing to grow because when you’re in Europe, it’s sink or swim,” he said.
For Horvath, who moved to Belgium after a successful four years with Norway’s Molde, the secret to navigating that cutthroat world has been a newfound ability to let go.
“In those difficult periods, I learned that you have to take a step back and breathe,” he said. “You can’t look too far in the future, even a couple of days. You have to go back to basics.
“These last two weeks, I told myself that I don’t have to do anything spectacular, I don’t need to be Superman,” he added. “I’ve learned to be patient and be ready, because you never know when your next chance is going to come.”
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