Postcard from Europe: Gatt eager for US debut in Russia
AMSTERDAM – Molde FK winger Josh Gatt may have just won the Tippeligaen championship for the second straight season on Sunday night, but his reward isn't Disneyland. It's Krasnodar.
The 21-year-old followed up the repeat title celebrations by quickly heading off to Russia for what he hopes is his long-awaited first senior national team camp with the United States in Wednesday's friendly (10 am ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
"I have had a few setbacks when it comes to the US national teams," Gatt told MLSsoccer.com in the aftermath of Sunday's title-clinching 1-0 victory over fellow Michigan native Steve Clark's Hønefoss. "I am very eager and excited to get involved."
WATCH: Gatt during U-23 camp in January
Those may actually be understatements. In fact, the flank speedster has – for one reason or another – not appeared in red, white and blue at any age level for 18 months.
Last year, Molde opted not to release Gatt to the US for the Under-20 World Cup qualifying tournament, and he had to watch the USA fall flat from afar. The same thing happened this April when Molde recalled him from the Olympic qualifying squad, which would also fall short of the mark without him.
Then, when US boss Jurgen Klinsmann finally decided to incorporate Gatt into the senior side in September, an injury the day before his departure cancelled the journey. Now that he's finally arriving, the attacker is ready to shoot for the moon.
"It has been and will continue to be a dream of mine to play for my country in a World Cup," he declared. "We will see if I can make that dream a reality."
The hamstring injury that kept him out of that US call-up in September has flared up a few times during the current Molde season, but Gatt and the medical staff hope this run of troubles is just a phase.
They're certainly putting the work in to make sure it's not a chronic problem.
WATCH: Gatt's goal vs. Valerenga
"I have also experienced a late growth spurt where I grew over an inch in the last 12 months and put on 15 pounds," he reported. "The good news is that I have learned a lot about proper training, stretching and eating habits that I have now incorporated into my daily routine.
"I can’t say I will never be injured again, but I feel I have a routine that is aimed at keeping me in the best and healthiest shape I can be in."
When he returns from US duty, hopefully with his first cap, the Tippeligaen standout has work to do even after the league closes this weekend. Molde still have two Europa League Group E matches remaining and only two points to make up in order to advance.
With a visit from FC Copenhagen and one to Stuttgart left on the Europa League docket, most observers will not favor the Norwegian underdogs' chances. However, Gatt says securing the league crown has given them a new level of ambition for these key continental clashes.
"We know we can play with all the teams in our pool," he stated. "We feel we can win the next two and move on, but we will have to play our best. With the title in hand, it means we can focus 100 percent on these two matches. [It] should make for some great soccer."
WATCH: Gatt's 2011 championship dance
Even if Molde don't move on to the last 32 of a European tourney for the first time since 1996, they can spend the offseason basking in another league title. Gatt contributed to the title defense with six goals and four assists in 19 games.
The American also became just the fourth American (joining DaMarcus Beasley, Maurice Edu and Oguchi Onyewu) to win back-to-back championships in a European top flight. As sweet as the first title was, he rates the repeat as a more impressive accomplishment.
"The first year was special because it was my rookie season," Gatt said. "It was the team’s 100-year anniversary, it was [manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer;s] first year and the club had never won a championship. All of that made it more of a magical ride.
"This year was much tougher. You always get your opponents' best, while your club and city have very high expectations. That we won again is a testament to a great group of guys and coaching staff."
Greg Seltzer covers Americans abroad for MLSsoccer.com.