AMSTERDAM – There isn't much that gets past the mature-for-his-age Ethan Horvath. As such, the 20-year-old goalkeeper's performance last Tuesday for his Norwegian club, Molde FK, fit. His appearance in the game made Horvath just the second American to walk the goal line in a Champions League contest--and it marked a shutout win for him, too.
The US Under-20 backstop oversaw a 5-0 cruise past countryman Cesar Romero and FC Pyunik in the friendly confines of Aker Stadion, helping champions Molde FK put one leg in the third qualifying round. Extra sweet for Horvath? His parents just happened to be in Molde on a trip scheduled long ago, and they caught it all.
"It's kind of hard to explain when you're in the moment," Horvath told MLSsoccer.com by phone after a recent training session. "It was extra special for me because my mom and dad were visiting."
In fact, Horvath had only been a starter for less than three weeks at the time of kick-off. Previous starter Örjan Nyland completed a transfer to join Alfredo Morales and Bundesliga risers Ingolstadt on the first day of July, leaving the Molde line job to the American. This would stun most players Horvath's age, and perhaps young 'keepers even more so, but the Colorado native had picked up on the trade winds and steeled himself mentally to take the job.
"There were always rumors of teams that were interested in [Nyland], but then we had a game at Rosenborg [on June 26] and then the next day he didn't come in," recalled Horvath, who was slated to work the reserve match three days later. "I got kind of suspicious. At halftime [of the June 29 Molde II win], they pulled me out and the first team goalkeeper coach told me 'You're not going to continue' because I needed to get ready to play the [Tippeligaen] game on Friday."
Horvath admitted he had been preparing himself to take over. "I knew of [Nyland's] ambitions and that Molde wasn't his final stop," he said. "It's hard to be a number two, but I always trained and prepared myself as if I would be starting."
But Horvath's used to such lofty talk sine high school. "When I was about 14 or 15, there was a goalkeeper coach that told my mom and dad that one day we would have to make a decision about not going to college, and that potentially I had the ability to go straight to Europe or MLS," said Horvath, a Real Colorado youth product.
There was some talk of going to the Rapids, but by the time he was 16, Molde were already eager to land him. The team spotted him in a friendly and were immiediately interested.
"I was found the same way as [teammate and compatriot] Josh Gatt, on a European tour with Jon Spencer and the Orange County Blue-Stars," he said. "Our last game was against 1860 Munich and that's when the Molde scout came. After the game, he asked me to go there for a week's training. After the first training, they said 'Look, we want to sign you, but we don't know how to get you into the country,' because of all the rules."
Then, in an unselfish gesture that seemingly worked against their interest in the player, Molde helped arrange some high-profile training visits for Horvath. He spent a couple weeks with Manchester City and two months with Stoke City. Eventually, Horvath would turn 18, making him eligible to sign a pro contract in a foreign country. He could have chosen any of a number of MLS or European destinations, but when the time came to turn pro, it was Molde who had all the right lures.
"When someone explained to me that Ole Gunnar Solskjær was their coach, that the goalkeeping coach was Richard Hartis – who was on the Manchester United staff under Alex Ferguson working with [Edwin] van der Saar and [Tim] Howard – and that the assistant coach Mark Dempsey was a Manchester United defender, you realize how serious it is," he said.
Now, with Nylund off to Ingolstadt, matters have grown even more serious for the youngster. Instead of simply preparing as if he could start, Horvath is the man. There are league matters to consider (the champs currently sit sixth, five points shy of the last Europa League invite) and Molde is in the elite eight of the NM Cupen.
And, of course, Horvath must now also contend with expectations for the club's Champions League adventure.
"If we get a good draw, I think we can push our way into the group stage," said Horvath, always plotting a step ahead. "But if not, if we get knocked out, then we have a good chance to make the Europa League group stage."