AMSTERDAM – His league season may be done, but the work continues for young Molde FK goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, who will be in net when Turkish giants Fenerbahçe visit Thursday night with first place in Europa League Group A on the line.
The US Under-23 international will be hoping that an 18-day competitive layoff since the Tippeligaen finale will not dull his sharpness or that of the team in front of him. Horvath and Molde have piled up seven straight victories across all competitions, including Europa League road wins at tough spots like Fener and Celtic. He has not allowed multiple goals in a game for over two months.
In fact, Horvath has been so hot that he now stands even with Brad Friedel for fourth-place on the all-time victory chart for Americans netminders working their "rookie" European campaign with 18. Another win over Fenerbahçe would pull him level with third-place Kasey Keller. We hopped on Skype during a break in Horvath's Europa League preparations to discuss his growing experience in goal, the road ahead in Europe and how he's an authentic American 'keeper despite having a full head of hair.
MLSsoccer.com: Last time we talked, you were starting to get comfortable in the starting role. Now, the season has ended with the team finishing strong and you on a big win streak. How was it to get the experience of that late-season run?
Horvath: For me being new to the starting role, it was a very good feeling and motivation. You give yourself a push to keep going because you don't want to lose it.
MLSsoccer.com: During this run, were there things you learned about how to keep things steady back there?
Horvath: Definitely. I think some of it has to do with the back four in front of you. When you can get used to playing with them a lot, you know their abilities and tendencies. It's makes it a lot easier in all situations.
MLSsoccer.com: Was it a season-long lesson to get comfortable in working with the defense?
Horvath: Yeah, it was for me. And I think it is for other goalkeepers, too. You need to establish the leadership role, to know everyone's strengths and weaknesses, to establish a communication system.
MLSsoccer.com: Of course, you also spend time in the US national team setup. Those guys who have come before you – these days, Brad Guzan and Tim Howard – are certainly not shy back there. They are in command. Do you learn from those guys, as well?
Horvath: Obviously, they've been doing it a long time now. For myself, being 20, I watch those guys and try to do the same things they do. I think maybe it has to do with that American spirit and passion stuff.
MLSsoccer.com: Turning to Thursday, you have a nice home game after some tough away games and the team has all but clinched winning your Europa League group. What's the mindset for Matchday 5? 'Let's close this up with a game to spare?'
Horvath: After the Celtic game, knowing that we automatically clinched first or second place was huge for us mentally. If we get one point over the next two games, we clinch first place. But our mentality right now is not to go after one point. We are going after all three.
MLSsoccer.com: With your season ended, it's a concern that you don't have games. How are you guys going to stay sharp for the Europa League battles to come?
Horvath: After the season ended, everybody got six to seven days to recharge the batteries. Then we came back, and last week we played a friendly (a 3-0 win over promoted Sogndal). We will travel to Sweden to play a friendly at (also out-of-season Champions League participants) Malmö before we close the group at Ajax.
MLSsoccer.com: So you already have the knockout spot, which makes you into the last 32. That is not something that happens every day at Molde. You guys are already surprising people in the group. How many more surprises can you pull in this tournament? How far can you go?
Horvath: To be honest, I don't really know. When we found out our group, many people didn't see us moving forward. It's the luck of the draw and who you get to play. I think we can still surprise some people.
MLSsoccer.com: After wins over Fener and Celtic, and a draw with Ajax, how many teams left are really beyond you and the team?
Horvath: Oh, I agree. The way we've been playing in Europa League, maybe now a team doesn't want to draw Molde because they have seen how we're doing in the competition.