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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
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