Ethan Horvath may be the answer to Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT injury woes ahead of Concacaf World Cup qualifying

As the United States men’s national team face a minor injury crisis, help may be coming from an unlikely source as Ethan Horvath and Nottingham Forest march into the FA Cup quarterfinals with a date with Liverpool coming after their 2-1 victory over Championship promotion rivals Huddersfield Town on Monday.

The Terriers went up 1-0 only 12 minutes into the match via a header from quite far out from Tom Lees. Horvath’s visibility was limited at the time causing the ball to end up in essentially an empty net. 

Forest would waste no time getting back into things as Sam Surridge scored the equalizer following an assist from Ryan Yates. The assisted would later become the goal scorer as Yates found the eventual winner in the 37th minute to see Forest through to the final eight. It’s a continuation of a dream FA Cup run for the team that has knocked off Leicester City and Arsenal along the way. During a season when things haven’t always been easy, the improvement under Steve Cooper is remarkable after he took the helm in September replacing Chris Hughton.

Another note on the night was the performance of Horvath. Starting his fourth consecutive match following Brice Samba’s red card against Stoke City, the American keeper was more than serviceable in net. His four saves and one punch were just enough to keep Forest in the game even with his wayward passing on long balls where only two out of his 13 attempts were accurate. Horvath even added a highlight-reel save for good measure.

Since taking over between the sticks, Horvath has allowed two goals while going unbeaten with two wins and two draws. Displaying good command of his area, Horvath has made 14 saves and four punches over that span. But with Samba back, Cooper will have a tough decision on his hands. The team’s defensive form was a bit of a roller coaster under Samba as they gave up five goals in the previous four matches before Horvath became the starter. More importantly, he was the entrenched starter when Horvath joined the team.

Cooper’s decision to start Horvath in the FA Cup after Samba was in net for their victory over Leicester City felt like a message to his keepers positions are earned not given. Horvath isn’t perfect. He can sometimes cause issues spilling the ball and with his distribution. That said, it’s behind an experienced defense like Forest’s where his shot-stopping abilities can shine brightest. Only three points off of a playoff space, this could be one of the biggest decisions that Cooper has to make all season. 

“Don’t underestimate Ethan’s role in winning tonight,” Cooper said post-match. “You know, the couple are really good saves … they’re good off set pieces over. Thomas, delivery is as good as as anybody in the Championship to be fair. That’s why they’re a real threat of them and, you know, he made some good decisions off that as well.

“It’s a clear decision we obviously had [to make], you know, we got two really good goalkeepers. We know Brice more than we know Ethan because he’s been here a while and played a lot of games, but you Ethan’s opportunity came and he’s taking it. So it’s as clear as that really.”

This doesn’t sound like a manager ready to swap keepers.

National implications

Gregg Berhalter will be watching as well with his first- and second-choice keepers for the national team sidelined. This is seriously good fortune that when Matt Turner and Zack Steffen got injured, Horvath may have backed into a starting job after not being a factor during most of the season. Entering the critical and final batch of Concacaf World Cup qualifiers (which you can catch on Paramount+) where the U.S. will face Mexico (March 24), Panama (March 27) and Costa Rica (March 30), Horvath will likely be the best option in net.

While his distribution remains a concern with how Berhalter likes keepers to play in possession, Horvath’s experience coming in cold for an injured Steffen and making big saves in the Nations League final is the most playing time that a keeper not named Turner or Steffen has gotten in a competitive national team match in the last 12 months.

The other long shot choices at a hostile Estadio Azteca? Sean Johnson of NYCFC and 17-year-old Gabriel Slonina of Chicago Fire. Horvath seems like a no-brainer between the sticks if the regulars are still sidelined. He has already performed under pressure, and if the match turns into one where the United States gets pelted from a relentless Mexico attack, Horvath is the keeper most up to the task at the moment. Slonina will likely be the guy in the future as he’s a talent for the Chicago Fire, but these games are too important to put that kind of pressure on someone of his age.

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