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Ethan Horvath looks up to playing more in goal for the USMNT

Many fans may not know much about the young goalkeeper, but after a solid debut you’re probably going to hear a lot more about him.

United States V Honduras Semifinals-2015 CONCACAF-Olympic Qualifying Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

The match wasn’t pretty, with the United States and Cuba slogging their way through 90 minutes on a poor pitch to a 2-0 win for the USMNT, but one thing stood out as a definite positive: the calm, quality performance Ethan Horvath had in goal in his senior national team debut.

It was a big opportunity for the 21-year-old keeper who plays his club soccer with Molde in Norway, even if it was just a friendly against a low-ranked team like Cuba. Horvath has been called up before, including being part of the USMNT’s Gold Cup squad last summer, but actually starting a senior international match is a very different thing. Many keepers have struggled under such circumstances — just ask Sean Johnson or Bill Hamid or William Yarbrough — but Horvath was calm and composed all match long and was generally impressive in goal.

Horvath earned his chance after spending a full year as Molde’s starting goalkeeper in Norway’s Tippeligaen, including an impressive run in the Europa League that included helping lead Molde to topping a group featuring much bigger clubs in Ajax, Celtic, and Fenerbahce. He even was named to a Europa League Squad of the Week after a match in which he almost single-handedly salvaged a draw for Molde against Ajax.

He showed much of that same quality against Cuba, keeping a clean sheet and doing all the big, obvious things well — Horvath’s shot-stopping was excellent, he handled crosses well, and his distribution was solid. But against a team like Cuba, that success is more expected than exceptional, so it’s easy to dismiss what he did on the pitch until you look at some of the not so big and obvious things that Horvath did well.

The biggest was his constant organization and communication with his defense. Many young goalkeepers in Horvath’s position will tend to be hesitant to order around the defenders in front of them, especially with the U.S. fielding four defenders who have played a lot for the national team the past couple of years. But Horvath was constantly directing and dictating play to his defenders, keeping up a constant dialogue with Geoff Cameron in particular. That helped keep everyone on the same page, which helped bail them out of several potentially tricky situations against counter attacks throughout the game. Better, he directed his players without stepping out of his ready position most of the time and while on the move, something most young keepers fail to do.

He did make one big mistake in the match, coming off his line without checking for runners coming in behind him in the 64th minute, and nearly gave up a goal to the resulting header when the cross he was trying to cover floated past him. To Horvath’s credit, though, once he realized the danger he made himself as big as he could, forcing Alberto Gómez to make his header into as small an opening as possible, and the Cuban winger responded by clanging the ball off the post.

Better yet, he learned from his mistakes. In the 80th minute when facing a similar cross with a runner coming in from behind him and substitute defender Steve Birnbaum laid out on the pitch after getting kicked in the face, Horvath waited to come out until he had a better idea of where the cross was going. That allowed him to get right in front of the Cuban attacker receiving it before he could shoot, nullifying any danger in the moment. It was a smart play that many young keepers struggle with, so seeing Horvath make that decision was a good sign of his development — especially after he struggled with a similar situation just minutes before that.

It wasn’t a perfect debut and it wasn’t against a terribly strong opponent, but the signs we saw were far more positive than not. Ethan Horvath has a bright future ahead of him, and American fans should try to find ways to follow his progress with Molde this season. He’s part of a very promising group of young American goalkeepers, and if he can keep up the development he’s shown, the USMNT will be in good hands once Tim Howard and Brad Guzan finally move on in their careers.