Ethan Horvath saves Andres Guardado’s penalty kick in extratime. (John Leyba-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

When you’re a backup goalkeeper, opportunities to play sometimes can be as rare as lunar eclipse.

So, when those rare chances come, you grab them with both hands.

“When you’re on the bench as a keeper, you don’t expect to come in the game,” said Ethan Horvath, who was the second keeper for Club Brugge in Belgium.

Midway through the second half of the United States’ game against Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League final in Denver Sunday night, all that changed.

Horvath entered one hot game cold after starter Zack Steffen injured his knee in the 68th minute. He said that he sand Steffen have been on various U.S. national teams together since they were 14-years-old.

“We have a fantastic relationship,” said Horvath, who met Steffen on the sidelines. “He just said, ‘Everyone believes in me.’ ”

If there were any problems or jitters, they certainly did not show as Horvath wound up being the unlikely hero of the U.S. men’s national team’s 3-2 victory.

“It’s already high rolling going 100 miles per hour,” midfielder Weston McKennie said. “To come in and game and make the big saves and secure the win was big time, big, big time.”

The 25-year-old goalkeeper from nearby Highlands Ranch, Colo. saved Andres Guardado’s penalty kick two minutes into second extratime stoppage time to give the USA the inaugural Nations League title.

“He was the coach’s man of the match,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Just thinking about how difficult it is for goalkeepers to come into the game in that stage of the game, and then to make the impact that he made was remarkable. Really proud of Ethan. It’s been a tough season for him and to come up with performance like that in his hometown, it’s stuff that you know storybooks write about.”

Horvath dove to his right to deny the veteran Guardado, knocking away the midfielder’s attempt.

He credited USMNT goalkeeper Aron Hyde in helping him scout the Mexican players’ penalty kick tendencies earlier in the day.

“This morning, Zach, myself, David [Ochoa] and Aron, we spent a good 30-40 minutes on watching penalties just in case it went to a penalty shootout,” Horvath said. “We watched from the guys who will start the game, from the bench, guys. Anyone of us were prepared to step in and go and take a penalty. It’s down to us doing our homework.”

Just before Guardado took his penalty, Christian Pulisic, who converted a PK of his own moment prior to give the USA the lead, pointed to his head.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with the penalty, 100 percent,” Horvath said. “There was a lot of other stuff going on and just like to be playing mental games and just said this is my moment.”

Which Horvath definitely turned into his top USMNT moment.

Before the Nations League Final Four, Horvath’s biggest problem was finding tickets for friends and family.

“It’s kind of surreal to be back home in Denver,” he said. “When I found out that the games were going be here, I was very happy, because it’s been like three, four years since I’ve been home. For the semifinal game and today I needed 24 tickets.”