Well before sunrise a decade ago, Peter Horvath found himself at the back of a grocery store trying to gain a foothold, of all things, regarding the complexities of the Norwegian trash system.
A new resident to the West Coast fjord city of Molde in August 2012, he was learning the intricacies of what had to be composted, divvied up for recycling or tossed into the trash. Norwegians are aware, at times meticulous, about their trash. It was his first shift at his new job as a custodian.
“Let’s just say reality set in really quick,” he said.
Horvath was a gym teacher at Columbine High School prior to moving to Norway on a two-year sabbatical. His wife, Deana, soon joined the same cleaning company, Møre Drift. They completely upended their lives to give their son, Ethan, an extraordinarily talented goalkeeper prospect, a chance to live his dreams of playing high-level soccer. When he arrived at Molde FK to train with the first team in April 2012, he was still 16.
With the family’s Highlands Ranch home and car already sold and most of their possessions locked away in long-term storage, there was no turning back.
“‘What the hell are we doing?’ probably was said more times than not,” Peter Horvath quipped while looking back at those first few weeks in Norway.
Ten years later, the decision to move abroad has more than paid off.
Ethan is not only the world-class goalkeeper he’d always intended to be, with a starting role for a professional club in England, but he’s now a historic figure in Colorado soccer as well. That fact was cemented Nov. 9 when Horvath became the first Coloradan to be named to a United States Men’s National Team FIFA World Cup roster. He will be in uniform when the USMNT begins World Cup play Monday vs. Wales in Qatar.
And with it will come a flood of emotions.
For the Horvath family, soccer has always been a central part of their lives.
Peter, once a forward for the Denver Avalanche of the Major Indoor Soccer League, parlayed his pro career into teaching and coaching. He led the Columbine varsity boys and girls programs for 26 seasons, amassing three state titles and over 500 wins in a career that ended with his induction into the Colorado High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Naturally, Ethan grew up immersed in the sport. He began playing as a four-year-old, and chose to become a goalkeeper by age nine. He embraced being the last line of defense, and the individual training the position required.
Anthony Latronica was Horvath’s goalkeeping coach from 2007-2010 while also an assistant at the Air Force Academy and again at the U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team in January 2012. A Columbine alum who played for Peter in the 1990s, he first met Ethan while he was building an All-American résumé in college.
By the time Latronica finished coaching Horvath, he informed the family of a new reality: Your son can go pro.
“Honestly, he wanted to be a ‘keeper from Day 1. … (What stood out) was the psychological piece first,” said Latronica, now the executive director at Tampa Bay United SC in USL League Two. “He was so serious and committed to the training, which, you have to have that mentality to make it.”
Horvath’s physical attributes helped, too. He was tall, lanky and athletic. He had a long wingspan, even then. (He’s now 6-foot-4).
“It was a projection, but I knew with the mentality he had, he was gonna make it,” Latronica said.
Horvath hit milestone after milestone. By the summer of 2011, Ethan had just turned 16 when Molde, the four-time Norwegian champions, scouted him at a two-week tournament in Europe. Then, he played two seasons at Arapahoe High School, which included a memorable junior season when he kept 10 shutouts and gave up only 11 goals.
In January 2012 he stayed in England with his mom, who homeschooled him. He trained with Manchester City and Stoke City — but nothing came of those tryouts.
Molde inquired again that April and pitched a life-changing scenario. In order to qualify for residency Peter and Deana would have to move there, and Ethan could apply for a family visa. The club facilitated the setup with an apartment and jobs. The cleaning company held the contract for the stadium and training facility.
Ethan returned stateside one last time to renew his passport while his visa application was being finalized, and at 17 even spent 10 weeks as a volunteer assistant coach for the Syracuse University women’s soccer team via coaching connections. By October, Horvath was in Norway for good.
He turned 18 in the summer of 2013 and signed a professional contract. Meanwhile, his parents rose early and headed to the 11,000-seat Aker Stadium, where they prepared the facilities for daily use. Mopping floors, cleaning toilets or picking up the locker room after Ethan’s teammates was tedious work, jobs they held until the following spring.
Whenever he saw his parents working he was reminded of their sacrifices.
“While training, I could always see them and give them a wave. The bigger picture took over from there,” he told U.S. Soccer in his emotional ’26 Stories’ episode. “…They put their life on hold for two-plus years, just to see if this dream would work out.”
Fast forward 10 years and the move still has ripple effects to this day.
Horvath, now 27, has had major success for both club and country. At the World Cup, he will be one of the older members on the 26-man squad. The Americans are the second-youngest team at the tournament. Many of the team’s most recognizable names only broke into the national team picture after the failure to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
Not Horvath. He’s been as steady as they come.
After joining Belgium’s Club Brugge in 2017, he started UEFA Champions League games and went on to keep a clean sheet at Germany’s Borussia Dortmund in front of 66,000. Wearing the Stars and Stripes, he stepped in as a second-half injury substitute and wound up making the “save of his life” at Empower Field against Mexico in the Nations League final in June 2021, denying a potential game-tying penalty in stoppage time.
When he joined Nottingham Forest last season, he remained No. 2 for much of the time. He delivered when it mattered once again as a late-game injury substitution in the team’s playoff final and helped Forest seal promotion to the Premier League for the first time since 1999.
As a result, Horvath’s earned a reputation for being dependable no matter where he is on the depth chart — a quality USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter pointed out when he made the World Cup roster. Fictional coach Ted Lasso even referenced it in a motivational “hand-written” note currently displayed on a billboard along South Broadway in Denver: “One thing I know rock solid,” the billboard reads, “nobody’s gonna cross Mt. Horvath.”
This season, on loan with Luton Town in the English Championship, the second tier, he’s become an overnight hit with Hatters fans, who delight in chanting “USA, USA” after strong performances. With eight shutouts so far, it’s easy to see why.
Luton’s goalkeeping coach Kevin Dearden believes that if he’s called upon in Qatar, Horvath will deliver.
“Ethan has a fantastic attitude and is singularly-focused,” Dearden said. “But I think to me, what stands out the most is his character, his calmness. Nothing fazes him and that authority transmits itself to the back four and the whole team.”
As for Peter and Deana, they reflect on their time in Norway often.
Since their son’s career took off, one word has come up regularly. It will ring true again when they, along with Ethan’s wife, Maja, watch him on the world’s biggest stage in Qatar.
“It’s all a bit surreal still,” Peter said. “Ethan’s career has put us in a lot of positions and we’ve been able to use that word a ton. We said that at Dortmund (when he played in the UEFA Champions League), when we were standing outside of Wembley Stadium (for Forest’s playoff final). This is just really surreal.”
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