Five Americans played on the opening day of the
UEFA Champions League group stage.
Four were expected to play -- Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) and Sergino Dest (Barcelona) started and Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig) and Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) came off the bench -- but the fifth was a surprise.
Indeed, Ethan Horvath had not played a game of any kind for Belgian champion Club Brugge since September 2019 after losing his starting job for a third time.
But veteran Belgian keeper Simon Mignolet was among three Brugge players who tested positive for COVID-19 after their return from international duty and placed in self-isolation. (Brugge CEO Vincent Mannaert also tested positive.)
Brugge faced Russia's Zenit St. Petersburg on the road without three starters -- Ivorian defender Odilon Kossounou, Czech forward Michael Krmencik and Mignolet -- and still won, 2-1.
The only goal Zenit scored came on a Horvath own goal -- Dejan Lovren’s blast from more than 25 years out smashed the post and bounced into the base of the goal off the back of the diving Horvath to tie the score in the 74th minute.
But Horvath then came up with his biggest save of the game to stop Artyom Dzyuba and pushed aside a shot by Brazilian Wendel late in regulation, setting the stage for the stoppage-time winner from 19-year-old Charles De Ketelaere and a 2-1 Brugge win.
Horvath, 25, has a history of excelling in Europe. He was instrumental in Norway's Molde making it out of its 2015 Europa League group that included Ajax, Celtic and Fenerbahce. After two seasons at Molde, where one of his coaches was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Horvath was transferred to Brugge, then coached by legendary Belgian keeper Michel Preud’homme.
Horvath was in and out of the Brugge lineup -- losing the starting job midway through the 2017-18 season and at the start of the 2018-19 season -- before starting the final three games of the 2018 Champions League group stage. He ended up earning the award as the group's top keeper after earning three straight shutouts against Atletico Madrid (0-0), Borussia Dortmund (0-0) and Monaco (4-0), the latter two games on the road.
Against Borussia Dortmund, Horvath faced fellow American Christian Pulisic and made a big reaction save on his friend since they broke into the national team at the same time in 2016.
"We were messaging on bus ride over," he told Soccer America in 2019. "To be a Champions League game at such a high level, it was crazy to play against him. It was an awesome night. I didn't even know it was him until afterwards. After the game, he came to me and said, 'Why did you have to save it?'"
But when the 32-year-old Mignolet became available at the start of the 2019-20 season, Brugge did not hesitate to sign him, sending Horvath yet again back to the bench.
After the game, Brugge coach Philippe Clement praised his young players for not letting the COVID-19 situation affect them and Horvath for his "marvelous" work as a stand-in.