US U-23 goalkeeper Charlie Horton aims to flourish with new club Leeds United

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U.S. U-23 international Charlie Horton has had quite a week.

After finishing up with the U.S. U-23 national team following a third-place finish for Andreas Herzog’s side at the prestigious Toulon Tournament in France, Horton then signed a two-year contract with illustrious English club Leeds United and now he is back at home in Ohio putting his feet up for a well-deserved rest.

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But the American international has big plans for the future as he aims to emulate some of the great U.S. goalkeepers to grace the Premier League. That said, he’s keen to take it one step at a time to make his mark in England.

Horton, still just 20 years old, spoke to ProSoccerTalk from the U.S. and is delighted to have landed at English Championship club Leeds. He is determined to continue his development with one of English soccer’s biggest clubs that has fallen on tough times of late.

Talking about his decision to sign for Leeds, Horton is excited he will now get the chance to develop and help Leeds get back to England’s top-flight after deciding to leave Cardiff City.

“For me it was about what was the best step to take. I wasn’t really worried about what league it was in. I was more concerned on my development and where I could thrive,” Horton said. “I signed with my agent Patrick [McCabe] and we sat down and mapped everything out. As the situation merited, it was a serious decision and it didn’t need to be rushed. At the end of it we had five or six teams highly interested from MLS, two or three from the UK and a couple of others in Europe. It was making sure the right opportunity arose and that ultimately came with Leeds who are a massive club and were in the UEFA Champions League not long ago.”

And Leeds are pretty pumped to have a promising young goalkeeper like Horton on board too.

The American, who was born in London and grew up in Croydon before moving to Ohio as an nine year old, will once again get to work with renowned goalkeeping coach Richard Hartis. Horton’s relationship with Hartis dates back to Cardiff and Hartis has coached at Manchester United and with the English national team’s youth setup.

“It was massive. The opportunity to work with him [Hartis] is huge,”Horton explained. “He is one of the most well-respected goalkeeping coaches in the industry. I have done well working with him before and to pair that with a club like Leeds, a manager like Uwe Rosler and an owner who is so passionate about the club… it was easy for me.”

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When it comes to Rosler, Horton is his first signing as Leeds’ new manager. The German coach has taken over at the Yorkshire club with one main target from ambitious and eccentric owner Massimo Cellino: get them back in the Premier League.

After his playing days with Manchester City and Southampton were over, Rosler built up a healthy coaching resume and led Brentford through the lower divisions but a short but after a short and rather unsavory stint in charge at Wigan Athletic he has landed at Leeds. Rosler’s plan is for Horton to get playing time in the U-21 development squad but to also push current Leeds No. 1 Marco Silvestri.

“I know the manager and assistant manager of the USA team and they gave him a glowing reference. We’re very happy with him…” Rosler said. “He is one who will push every single day to get better. He will push the guys in front of him and he will get playing time in the Under-21s. I’m looking forward to working with such a positive character like Charlie. He will train everyday with the first team and Richard. He has very good potential and will be a future number one. He will travel with us for preseason – he’s a first-team player playing in the Under-21s. He has tremendous potential.”

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One of the things that attracted Horton to Leeds was Rosler’s track record of playing youngsters at Brentford and Leeds also boast plenty of academy prospects in their current squad with Sam Byram and Alex Mowatt just a few of the current crop, while James Milner, Aaron Lennon and Harry Kewell have come through in the past during Leeds’ heyday in the Champions League some 15 years ago.

Although it is often tough for young ‘keepers to get a chance to play regularly in their early 20’s in the Football League in England — not everyone can be as capable of the likes of David de Gea and Thibaut Courtois early in their careers — Horton is certainly in the right place to get opportunities.

“I knew that when Uwe was interested that he is not afraid to play young players. That is huge for me,” Horton admitted. “But I am also really excited to get around him because he’s just a top draw coach. When I am ready and the coaching staff believe that, I am going to hopefully grab the opportunity with both hands and not look back.”

His upbringing in both England and the U.S. make Horton a unique character and he is better placed than most to talk about the reasons why so many good goalkeepers continue to be produced by the United States.

“I think the interesting thing to look at is the way that young Americans play a variety of sports. For me I was really lucky because I grew up in England which gave me the passionate and love for soccer,” Horton said. “Then I moved here [the U.S.] and for two or three years, obviously I was always focused on soccer and being a goalkeeper, but I was playing basketball, American football, baseball and volleyball. All of these sports that develop hand-eye coordination that a European may not necessarily get on such a scale.”

Horton knows following in the footsteps of top American goalkeepers in England will be tough but he has had a little bit of help from USMNT legend Brad Friedel along the way. Friedel is from Lakeview, Ohio, not far from where Horton grew up, and Friedel took Horton under his wing and trained together for two years when the latter was 14.

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Horton has been with Peterborough and Cardiff in the past, but has now landed at Leeds.

“Those are big shoes to fill. If I can have a career like Brad Friedel, he is around from where I am from in Ohio, I would be honored. In every sense of the word he is a legend,” Horton said. “He has done so much for the game both in England and the States. I do think the U.S. has this reputation of producing top goalkeepers and I’m really hopeful that somewhere down the line I could be added to that list.”

Horton’s journey to England began at the age of 18 as he signed for Peterborough United, despite signing a National Letter of Intent at UNC-Chapel Hill. He explains that Chelsea’s Head Scout of the Americas at the time, Jorge Alvial, persuaded him to go to England and although he was turned down by Manchester United for being too small after a trial, Horton is now projected to stand at over 6 foot 6 inches when he stops growing.

Making the move to England has seen him bounce from Peterborough to Cardiff and now to Leeds and Horton revealed, in a slightly reverse-Freidel accent which is an interesting mix of mostly American but a little British slang throw in here and there, that he told his Mom the following before making the move back across the pond to pursue his dreams.

“‘If I don’t go, I am going to regret this for the rest of my life,'” Horton said. “At 18 I was willing to make a decision where I was not going to settle for having any kind of regret. I am in an industry where I have to rely on my body and hopefully will do for 20 years. I can go back to University whenever and rely on my mind for far longer. At the end of the day it was: ‘live life with no regrets and grab the opportunity with both hands.'”

With idols such as Joe Hart, Peter Schmeichel and Oliver Kahn growing up in Ohio, Horton always wanted to be a goalkeeper. He has watched the current crop of star stoppers from the U.S. in the Premier League and is looking forward to not only meeting with the likes of Brad Guzan and Tim Howard but also challenging for a spot on the U.S. roster along with a plethora of other talented young goalkeepers currently coming through.

“My goal is to be called into a men’s camp soon and hopefully I will have the opportunity to get in touch with those guys [Howard and Guzan] and really learn. For a young goalkeeper learning is so important,” Horton said. “I think us Americans can stick together and I’d love to pick their brains on things, on certain situations and gather as much knowledge as you possibly can. I know where they have been and where they have reached and ultimately that is where I want to get to. Any knowledge I can get off of them is huge.”

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Horton and the U.S. U-23’s finished third at the Toulon Tournament.

In terms of the future, Horton will be battling with current U.S. U-20 goalkeeper Zack Steffen and fellow U-23 ‘keeper Cody Cropper for a spot on the U.S. U-23 roster for the Olympics next summer and then to challenge the likes of Howard and Guzan after that. With recent success for the U-23’s at Toulon and the U-20’s at the World Cup in New Zealand, promising young talents such as Rubio Rubin, Gedion Zelalem and Jordan Morris are popping up throughout the USA’s player pool.

Horton is excited with where the U.S. can get to as a soccer nation and believes the sky is the limit.

“It is very exciting. U.S. Soccer is growing massively and not just with the men’s team at the World Cup last year and the Women’s World Cup for several years but it is now filtering through the youth sides. That is very exciting for us,” Horton said. “As a country that is where we need to be. It is setting up a really exciting time and future for U.S. Soccer and we need to keep developing and getting the country where we want it. Ultimately for me, that is to win a World Cup.”

One step at a time, Horton is fulfilling his dream to play professionally and now has a chance to grow with Leeds United over the next two years and try to hold down a starting spot either at Elland Road or out on loan. But where does he see himself in five years time?

After a short pause, he gives the following well-rounded and superbly level-headed response.

“In five years time I would like to be playing and have claimed a first-team spot in a top league. Hopefully that is with Leeds and we take that team to the top. I’d also like to be involved with the U.S. national team,” Horton said. “I would just like to be well into my career and have the respect and admiration from those around me. I think its great to be a great player but it is also important to be respected by your colleagues and have a reputation you are proud of.

“I hope that reputation of me is that I work extremely hard to prepare myself and leave very little to chance and go about my business that way. If that’s the reputation I leave the game with, I’d be immensely proud of that,” Horton added. “Hopefully that’s where I am. I am fortunate because goalkeepers have long careers. For someone who has lofty goals like me, it is just about continuing on that path of development and to get better each day. As goalkeepers we are fighting for fractions to centimeters and centimeters to inches every day. The more I can stack those gains on top of each other day after day, I think that is when I will really start to see some change and lay claim to a spot. For me there is no rush at the minute. I am willing to put in the hard work and grit to get there.”

Follow Charlie on his journey with Leeds United and the U.S. national team via Twitter by hitting the button below.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”