It was the 124th minute of an international championship match between neighbors and fierce rivals the United States and Mexico, when a cool, calm, and very collected 25-year-old from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, stepped in front of the south goal in Denver’s iconic Mile High Stadium.
With over 37,000 patriotic fans cheering and a colorful band of American Outlaws supporters backing him up, Ethan Horvath stared down Mexico’s national team captain, Andrés Guardado. With 168 caps under his belt and standing just 11 paces away at the penalty spot, Guardado was ready to send the inaugural Concacaf Nations League Final to the second overtime of the night.
Guardado waited for the referees while Horvath was surely recalling what he had learned some 12 hours earlier about Guardado’s tendencies from the penalty kick spot. That morning, Horvath — along with fellow ‘keepers Zack Steffen and David Ochoa — studied a video montage of Mexico’s top attackers and their past penalty kicks.
Seconds after the whistle blew through the deafening noise, the left-footed Guardado smacked his kick low and to the left side. Horvath dove low to his right, and slapped the ball high away to seal the win for young raging Yanks.
And in that thunderous moment, another American soccer icon was made, and the newest Team USA warrior was christened: Ethan Shea Horvath.
Hometown hero came up .— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) June 7, 2021
Ethan Horvath was INCREDIBLE last night. pic.twitter.com/v2IwRkIQYU
During his post-match interview with members of the media, Horvath said, “We spent a good 30-40 minutes watching penalties, just in case it went to a penalty shootout, We watched from the guys who will start the game, from the bench guys.” He continued, ”So if it was me, Zack, or David Ochoa in goal, any of the three of us, any one of us were prepared to step in and go and take a penalty. It’s down to us doing our homework.”
After the marathon 3-2 U.S. victory, a relieved Gregg Berhalter spoke to members of the media. “To make the impact that he made was remarkable. Really proud of Ethan. It’s been a tough season for him. And to come to have a performance like that in his hometown, it’s stuff that storybooks write about.”
Horvath added, “It’s kind of surreal to be back home in Denver. When I found out that the games were going to be here, I was very happy, because it’s been like three, four years since I’ve been home.” The amiable Coloradoan, who in his not-so-distant past played for the Real Colorado Soccer Club’s Development Academy, beamed with a sense of satisfaction when he shared with the gaggle of journalists that he asked for some 20-plus matchday tickets for his immediate family and friends.
The path to the USMNT
Horvath, a graduate of Arapahoe High School in Centennial, started playing for the Stars and Stripes when he was a U-14. He was named for the U-20 side when they made the 2015 FIFA World Cup in New Zealand. He played his very first match in his home state in 2015, joining then-Colorado Rapids midfielder and fellow Colorado native Dillion Serna on the U-23 Olympic qualifying team. In the spring of 2016, he was the starting ‘keeper for the U.S. U-23 team that was vying to earn a berth in the Concacaf-Conmebol play-in for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Kellyn Acosta played on the same team.
Around that time, senior USMNT head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann proclaimed that Horvath was one of his biggest hopes for the future. In the fall of 2016, Horvath made his debut with the senior team and earn a clean sheet against Cuba in a friendly in Miami. Coincidentally, during the camp and match with Cuba, current Colorado Rapids’ goalkeeper, William Yarborough was also on Klinsmann’s 23-man roster and served as Horvath’s back-up.
The Burgundy Wave caught up with Horvath in July 2017, when was training with the senior Yanks and then-head coach Bruce Arena at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The team was in Colorado training ahead of the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers. The USMNT staff was high on his potential and promise; however, he was deep in the program’s depth chart. At that camp, he behind the likes of Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando.
Knowing that development takes time, Horvath has taken his evolution in stride and capitalized on each and every learning opportunity. During the 2017 camp, he said, “You gain experience every day, just on and off the field — I’m lucky. This is my first camp with Nick, and I was lucky enough to have been in a few camps with Tim [Howard] and Brad [Guzan], so I’ve learned a ton from these guys.”
Even then, the USMNT program was forward-looking, evaluating younger players, including its rising goalkeepers. “We have some older goalkeepers in camp, and we’re starting to develop our younger pool of goalkeepers, and certainly Ethan is one of those,” Arena said. “He should be able to go back to his club in Belgium after this and have the confidence to compete and secure the #1 position, then position himself to challenge for a spot on a World Cup roster if we make it there in 2018.” Since then, he has made steady incremental progress and showcased his steady-handed talents.
Concurrent professional path
Horvath started his professional career alongside former Colorado Rapids’ midfielder Josh Gatt when they played together Orange County Blue Stars of the USL Premier Development League. While in Europe, the duo caught the eye of a Norwegian Molde FC scout. Gatt ended up playing for Molde from 2011-2016 before returning stateside to play in MLS, while Horvath played for Molde from 2013 through 2016.
In early January of 2017, he signed a multi-year contract with his current team, Club Brugge. During the 2018-19 season with the Belgian team, he led the team to a second-place finish in the Belgium First Division A. He made 28 appearances, including starting in both UEFA Champions League and Europa League qualifying games, and earned clean sheets against Atletico Madrid, AS Monaco, and Borussia Dortmund. Since then, his playing time has become highly competitive. In the 2019-2020 and 2021 seasons, he has started twice.
In October of 2020, he made his first start in nearly a year with Brugge during a Champions League match against Zenit Saint Petersburg. Brugge won with a goal in the 93rd minute.
Overcome with emotions from both the win, the opportunity to play full-time, and the emerging COVID-19 pandemic in Europe, he broke down after the match with his teammates and coaching staff at his side.
“I haven’t played for such a long time, so to be able to contribute to the team’s victory with what’s going on with the pandemic, come December it will be one year since I’ve seen my mom and dad, so it was just a whole bunch of emotions. The fact that we won, it was the cherry on top, so I just needed to let it out.”
More emotions at Empower Field, Mile High Stadium
To date, Horvath has made six appearances for the United States, including coming on in the 69th minute of play in the Concacaf Nations League Final for Zack Steffen, who came out after sustaining a non-contact injury to his right knee.
With the game made for an international audience, the drama was just starting to unfold as he entered the game. With the score tied at 1-1, Horvath gave up a go-ahead goal in the 78th minute to Mexico’s swift Diego Lainez who squeezed a laser shot inside the right goal post.
The defiant Yanks responded just 2.5 minutes later when Weston McKennie punched in a powerful header off Gio Reyna’s corner kick.
In between the back-and-forth contest, Horvath was under constant attack, making save-after-save in the final moments of regulation play.
In the first 15 minutes of overtime, Christian Pulisic earned a penalty kick after VAR wanted a second look at a play in which he was wedged by two opposing defenders in the penalty area.
Pulisic delivered, placing the ball in the upper right corner of the net. It would turn out to be the game-winner for Team USA.
Mexico then earned a VAR decision in the waning minutes on a Mexico header that skimmed the arm of McKenzie. Then came Horvath’s well-calculated and well-timed save that nixed Guardado’s valiant attempt to tie the game.
The determined in-your-face Yanks prevailed, and soon, fireworks flew, confetti spewed, and a hometown crowd roared when Horvath was awarded a champions’ medallion.
The win marks the USA’s first trophy since the 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup. The USA finished 5-1-0 in the Nations League, which commenced in 2019, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and finally concluded Sunday evening.
After the match, McKennie said of the hero of the match, Horvath, “For him coming into the game like that, being able to play hero for us, it was amazing, and it’s well-deserved. Ethan doesn’t put his head down, he doesn’t shy away from the task at hand, and he got it done.”