There are many paths to Major League Soccer and new Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Alex Horwath has explored more of them than most.
At 30 years old, Horwath joins RSL after playing for five clubs in four leagues in three countries during his first eight seasons as a pro. But even that doesn’t tell the full story. It’s been a career filled with ups and downs that have shaped him; twists and turns that have brought him back to MLS, where he joins a competitive side looking to get back into the postseason after missing by a single point last season.
“I took the road less traveled,” he smiled before rattling off the stops along his journey since finishing his collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin.
Along the steps of that journey, he has served as an MLS pool goalkeeper - training with the Kansas City Wizards while being ready to serve as an emergency goalkeeper for any team around the league – and fought for promotion with two teams in Europe. Now back in MLS with Real Salt Lake, he is looking to push Nick Rimando and raise his newborn baby with his wife in Utah.
“I just decided it was time to come home,” he said. “I’m kind of at the age in my career where you want to be in a good club and be happy with your family life. I thought it was a better choice for my family if we came back to the U.S.”
During his season as a pool goalkeeper in 2010, he was twice called to teams around the league to serve as an emergency backup. While spending the season training in Kansas City, he was able to quickly adapt to new surroundings and viewed the abrupt moves to other clubs as opportunities to learn from other goalkeepers and coaches. Those included stops with the San Jose Earthquakes where he worked with longtime MLS veteran Jon Busch and the Seattle Sounders, training with U.S. Soccer legend Kasey Keller for the final weeks of the season.
While that nomadic season might have seemed a difficult start, he viewed it as nothing but beneficial.
“For a young goalkeeper – unless you’re one of the guys who’s going to play when you’re 21 – it’s probably the best experience you can have,” Horwath said. “I got to learn from Jimmy Nielsen, from Kasey Keller, from Jon Busch. I got to see different things, work with different goalkeeper coaches and take a little bit from every place. It’s a weird job and a strange role to have, but looking back on it, it’s probably the most valuable year in my career.”
He parlayed that season into a contract with the New York Red Bulls, where current RSL Head Coach Mike Petke was an assistant coach and RSL Goalkeeper Coach Todd Hoffard put him through his daily paces. In his first career start, he earned a shutout in a scoreless draw with the Columbus Crew, but didn’t make another appearance.
His next two stops were with USL clubs, first with the Wilmington Hammerheads, then VSI Tampa Bay FC. Trying to work his way back into an MLS club, he opted instead to go abroad and play with Ljungskile SK in Sweden’s second division. A small club that plays in a 5,500-seat stadium and had twice been promoted for one-year stints in the first division since the club was launched in 1993, he found himself in the middle of a promotion battle. The club finished third, but missed out on promotion when it lost in a playoff with Gefle IF from the first division.
“It was a small club. That was really exciting because the club had no business going up. We just had a good year,” he said. “It was the best year of football I’ve had. It was a good group. We played really good football and it was the story of Sweden.”
That success led to a move to SK Brann in Norway – traditionally one of the top clubs in Scandinavia, who had seen a difficult season in 2014 and dropped to the second division. In what he described as a “tumultuous” first season at Brann, the club earned promotion back into the top division, where it has remained over the last two seasons and he has served as a backup.
Now he is back in MLS and looking to continue his development under Hoffard and alongside Rimando.
“Todd and I had a good relationship. It’s definitely an added bonus. It helps knowing how Todd trains goalkeepers and the way he sees the game and how to do things is something I like and feel comfortable with. It will help me thrive and develop,” Horwath said, adding of Rimando, “I’m 30, but I’m still learning and hopefully I still have a career ahead of me. I look at it as an opportunity to learn from somebody that’s been successful for a very long time in this game.”
Real Salt Lake is in its final stretch of preseason training in Orlando, Florida, and will open the season March 3 against FC Dallas.