BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, August 15, 2011
As Molde FK currently sit in first place in Norway's Tippeligaen and are aiming for their first ever league title, in recent weeks they have been lead by the exceptional play of 19 year old American Josh Gatt.
After joining Molde in January from Austrian club SRC Altach, Gatt has gradually forced his way into increased minutes for the club. Thus far Gatt has played in 15 of Molde's 19 games and has made the starting lineup eight times.
"When I first got here, with any new professional team, it's always hard in the beginning," Gatt told YA from Norway. "I felt recently that I've started to hit my stride with the team. I'm getting along great with the guys and we're playing really well as a team. I thinking they're helping me bring out the best in me as a player for the team and I've had a good streak of games."
Gatt solid play was most evident in recent league games against Valerenga and IK Start when he scored his first two goals for Molde in spectacular fashion.
In the game against Valerenga, Gatt moved in on a counterattack and nutmegged his defender before firing home a low driving shot.
In the following week against IK Start, Gatt used his blazing speed to take the ball at midfield and move all the way into the box. Once there, he faked his defender who fell to the ground. Gatt then moved in and fired an unstoppable shot into the top of the goal.
While the goals were of highlight reel quality, Gatt was most satisfied that each of the goals were game-winners for Molde as they picked up valuable points to cement their first place standing.
"It's fantastic," Gatt happily stated. "At the time when I scored the goal and nutmegged the guy, I didn't know it was going to be the game winner. It was good to get that off my chest and get [my first Molde] goal. In next game, I had a great opportunity one-on-one and I took advantage of it. I'm feeling really confident right now."
"We're not putting pressure on anyone shoulders because we all know with our starting four up top we all have a chances to score and we all can score."
Gatt's confidence has further been boosted with some recent positive feedback he received from Molde head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who was hired by Molde in January. Soon after taking the reins at Molde, Solskjaer brought in Gatt to be an important part of his offensive minded system.
"I hope Ole's been very happy with the way I've been playing," Gatt discussed. "I think he's been expecting the goals to come eventually. That's the reason I think he signed me here in Molde was to eventually put some balls into the back of the net. I know he wouldn't be playing me if he wasn't happy with the way I've been playing."
While Gatt has been playing recently at his natural position in right midfield, due to injuries at the club earlier this season Gatt saw extended time at right back. During his days at youth teams in the United States, Gatt occasionally saw time at right back and sometimes at left back however he never saw time there before in a professional setting.
Gatt recalls that it was a daunting task to move to the backline without much preparation or experience but he was proud of the job he did at right back for Molde and now feels comfortable should he be needed there again in the future.
"To be asked to play it for Molde was a little bit scary at first," Gatt said of playing right back. "As a backline guy you can't make mistakes there or else it could cost you the game. But I also felt it was a nice confidence boost that they would trust me enough to play me as a backline player knowing that my career has been as an attacking player."
"I think now that in the backline I feel very comfortable and I also think that it's a good position for me to play at," he continued. "When I was playing right back the team had some success and that's the most important thing - getting the team winning."
Molde have indeed been winning this season are making a serious push for their first ever title in Norway's top league, the Tippeligaen. Founded in 1911, the club is celebrating their 100th year this season and has seven second place finishes in their history but have yet to win the championship.
Molde currently sit in first place with 38 points through 19 games. With 11 games to go on the season, they are ahead of second place Brann by five points.
Gatt insists that he and his teammates are not looking too far ahead but at the same time they are confident that on any given day they have the ability to beat any opponent.
"Obviously it's a great feeling," Gatt said of being in first place. "At the top of the league, our spirits are high but we're not looking towards the end of the season. We're just focused on one game at a time. A lot can happen in a matter of just two games. We have to treat every game as if it were just the season winning game. But I think our team chemistry is great. We think that if we keep this up and keep playing like this, we can do some great things."
Gatt's recent success at Molde has also put him into the picture of the US national team. Gatt's history within US Soccer thus far has been very limited. His total experience consists of two friendlies with the U20 national team back in December 2010 and two friendlies this past May against France.
Still, his success with a strong Molde team has increased the probability of getting a call up in the near future. Ga/tt does not want dwell on the uncertainty of a callup but acknowledges it would be a huge honor to make his international debut and represent his country on a major stage.
"At the moment I'm trying to focus on what is certain, and what is certain right now is Molde," Gatt explained. "Staying on top on the league is what's important right now. I know there are some international friendlies coming up with the national team and it would be a huge honor and a huge privilege to be called up and play for them. But I'm just trying to focus on my job right now to win games with Molde."
Gatt has improved over the past six months in large part because of the coaching he has received under Solskjaer who was a great forward during his playing days with Manchester United. If Gatt does indeed make it to the US national team, he would be playing under new head coach Jurgen Klinsmann who was one of the best forwards of his generation.
The chance to receive top quality coaching from two former players who played at the highest level is an opportunity that Gatt feels would only further his progress and development as a professional player.
"Being here and working for the past six months with Ole has been fantastic," Gatt said. "To go play for Jurgen for the national team would be a fantastic experience. He's also great coach and I think he also wants to play the same sort of style that I'm used to playing at. In addition to the great coaching I'm getting here with Ole, I think that playing under [Klinsmann's] wing would really help my career as a player and make me that much better."
Gatt was expected to have been a part of the US U-20 national team this summer at the World Cup but the team failed to qualify and Gatt was not released by Molde for the qualifying games. The next major international tournament now on the horizon for Gatt is the 2012 Olympic Games next summer in London with the qualifying tournament taking place in March.
Gatt believes he has a lot of work to do at Molde to be considered for the US team in London but he admits the Olympics would be of added value after missing out on this summer's U20 World Cup in Colombia.
"When I heard about the U-20s not qualifying for the World Cup, I was very disappointed," Gatt disclosed. "I would have loved the opportunity to go play with them. But sometimes things happen. If I would have been at that U-20 World Cup, I wouldn't be playing here at the moment, and I probably wouldn't have scored those two goals. So I think personally, as a player everything happens for a reason."
"Obviously I'm not trying to think too far ahead with the Olympics and that's a ways away," he added. "I have a lot of work to do to make that team. But to play in the World Cup or the Olympics would be any players dream. If I had the opportunity to play in [London] it would be a terrific experience and I would be very happy to be a part of it."
For now, Gatt remains solely focused on the tasks that lie ahead with Molde and as the club moves into the stretch run, they could receive a boost from another American in Sean Cunningham who also joined the club in January. Gatt and Cunningham were teammates going back to their days in Michigan and Gatt is excited by the progress his friend has made in recent months at Molde.
"Sean has come a long way since he first got here," Gatt said of Cunningham. "I went through the whole first contract and first professional year and I know how hard it can be. Sean has really been on the up lately. He's improved significantly as a player and mentally he's become much stronger. I can see him soon possibly getting some time with the Molde first team. He's been doing a great job and he's impressed."
Gatt and Molde return to league action on Monday August 22 when they host fifth place Lillestrøm.