121913_isi_gattjosh_usmnt130129007 Thomas B. Shea/isiphotos.com
ASN Exclusive

Despite Setbacks, Joshua Gatt Remains Optimistic

The 22-year-old midfielder has faced more than his fair share of injuries, but he is determined to bounce back and play better than ever. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke with the Michigan native.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
December 19, 2013
12:57 PM
WHEN JOSHUA GATT made the move to Europe in 2010, he did so with little fanfare. Not much was known or expected of the Michigan native who had never even been on the radar of a United States youth national team. When he joined RSC Altach of Austria’s second tier shortly after his 18th birthday, it appeared that he was one of many young Americans who head to lower European leagues to pursue an elusive dream.

Within the first few weeks, it seemed as if Gatt’s European dream would be short-lived, as he initially struggled to fit in at Altach and adjust to living life abroad. As time passed, however, he found his way. Born with explosive speed, he learned to use that rare gift and combine it with skill and tactical awareness.

Gatt’s high ceiling became apparent even at the lower levels of the Austrian pyramid, and after just six months he was transferred to Molde in Norway’s first tier. At the time, the club had never been considered a powerful club, but it was a good opportunity for Gatt since the club hired former Manchester United great Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as its head coach. Solskjaer was also coming off a two-year stint where he was the head coach of Manchester United’s reserve team and was working with the famed club’s best young players.

It didn’t take Gatt long to make an impact in Norway and in just his first year he helped Molde win its first-ever title. In 2012, he continued to improve and doubled his scoring output to six goals despite playing fewer minutes due to some injuries. Molde that year defended its title and, after the final game of the season in November, Gatt flew to Russia for his first international appearance with the U.S. national team.

Given all of this momentum, 2013 should have been Gatt's breakthrough year. Molde was aiming to win its third straight title and also had Champions League qualifiers in the summer. The U.S. national team had a busy calendar with World Cup qualifying and the Gold Cup.

His ambitions, however, came to a crashing halt in June when he suffered an injury to his left knee in a 3-1 win over Sarpsborg on June 29. Gatt was scheduled to fly to the United States after that game to join the United States' Gold Cup squad but instead he received a terrible diagnosis: he had an ACL tear that would require surgery. “When I was sat down and told the diagnosis in Norway, the positive thing is that the coaches understand me well mentally and how I react to certain things,” Gatt told American Soccer Now. “Obviously it was one of those things that when I heard the news I had to look deep and absorb the slap of pain and sadness"

"I had to take it and move on," he added. "My family helped me get through my emotions. I’ve had a lot of down days but the positive is that my team has been really supportive for me to get back.”

Molde have indeed been supportive of Gatt. Following the injury, Molde insisted that Gatt fly to Vail, Colorado, to have his surgery done at the world-renowned Steadman Clinic for sports-related injuries. Following the operation, Gatt was allowed to do his rehab in his native Michigan, where he was surrounded by his family, friends, and youth coaches.

Until mid-November his training regimen consisted of straight running, biking, cardio, and weight training. This past week, however, marked a turning point as Gatt returned to Colorado to meet with his surgeon—who subsequently cleared him for limited dynamic movement. The training will now become more intense in the upcoming weeks as Gatt eyes preseason training with Molde in late January.

Jon Spencer was the technical director of the SuperElite tour that helped identify Gatt as a national talent and garner the interest that would eventually bring him to RSC Altach. To this day, Spencer is a mentor to Gatt and he is also optimistic on Gatt’s present status.

"Joshua has been committed from day one to return stronger than he was before,” Spencer said. “He is progressing exceptionally well. One of Joshua's greatest strengths is his belief in himself. This experience has been great for Joshua to work through the adversity and come back stronger. He is committed to success. This week Nike sent him a new set of boots as he begins his limited field work. I am excited to see him on the field in 2014."

For a player whose blazing speed was always a cornerstone of his game, Gatt remains optimistic that he will return completely. As a fan of American football, he cites Adrian Peterson’s terrific return from a similar injury as an inspiration and a goal to emulate.

“I’m focused on the positives,” Gatt said. “I believe I am going to be the same if not even better than before. I have the best surgeon in the world. I have no doubt that when I step back on the field from this that I am going to be as fast, if not faster, than I was before. My whole goal has been a January return and I’ve been telling everyone I want to start preseason for my club when I’m 100% fit."

"That’s what I’m shooting for.”

As a result of the struggles he has faced, Gatt, 22, believes he has grown up and matured as a person. Where most young American teenagers who move to Europe fail to find success, Gatt has fought through injuries to become one of the more promising young American soccer players. He is adamant that the maturity that was the direct result of the off-field issues has made him a more focused and determined player. “I definitely feel older than I am based on my career path and my life path as an American moving abroad on my own,” Gatt explained. “I had to grow up quickly and I had to grow up faster than other people around me. But I’m still young and I have a lot to learn. I still have room to improve. But I feel that I’ve grown up and I take things better than I would have when I was younger. I’ve learned how things should be handled.”

“It’s about becoming a man slowly but surely,” he added. “It happens to everyone at different times but for me from what I’ve done, it happened at a young age. I’m pretty happy with where I’m at. I’ll still have more obstacles to face and new challenges I haven’t even seen yet. Based on my experiences I’ll be ready, if not more ready, to face the challenges to come.”

Solskjaer and the Molde organization are looking forward to Gatt’s return as well. The club checks in with him regularly and last month flew him back to Norway so that he could watch the Norwegian Cup with his teammates.

Molde defeated Rosenborg, 4-2, and it was Solskjaer who made the decision to bring Gatt back for the match. The coach wanted to make sure Gatt continued to feel like a key part of the team. As Gatt explains, watching Molde win the title and earn a spot in Europa League qualifying next year was “one of the best things that could have happened after the injury.”

It is going on four years since Gatt opted out of playing for Indiana University to instead set his sights on European soccer. He has faced more than his share of adversity but the ambition remains. He eyes playing in Molde’s season opener in March and the Europa League qualifiers in the summer. He also does not completely close the door on the World Cup and hopes he can impress early in the Tippeligaen season to convince Klinsmann he can be a valuable option on the wing.

“Right now I just want to play my first game again,” Gatt said of his goals in 2014. “Long term, my goal is to get back to where I was with my speed and getting back into the form I was in prior to my injury. I want to help Molde win another Norwegian title and/or Norwegian Cup. Hopefully if I’m playing well enough, maybe I’ll be a last-minute inclusion into the World Cup squad.”

The U.S. national team has seen more than its share of top players struggle with recurring and ill-timed injuries. Stuart Holden has been out of action for most of the past four years and John O’Brien’s career was cut short as his body was never able to adjust to professional athletics. Charlie Davies has never fully recovered from his car crash and Oguchi Onyewu has never quite been the same since his knee injury in 2009.

Gatt insists he is not bitter about his own series of injuries. Instead, he has surrounded himself with positive influences who have helped shape his mature outlook heading into 2014.

“I had a lot of good opportunities this year and the injury ended a lot of them quickly,” Gatt said. “It has been really difficult both mentally and physically. But these things happen. I’m feeling really good and things are looking up. This isn’t going to stop me. It’s just going to slow my personal plan down for a bit.”

“In this case, the only thing that is going to make it worse is to be negative,” he continued. “I’ve learned that throughout my years, especially in the past few. In my case, you have bitter thoughts every now and then and you get angry or depressed. In the long run if you stay that way, it’s not going to benefit you. It will eat you up. The only thing you can look at is coming back with a stronger and more positive attitude."

This isn’t going to define me. What’s going to define me is what comes after it.”

Would you like to see Gatt on the United States' 23-man World Cup roster? Share your thoughts below.

Brian Sciaretta is an ASN contributor. Find him on Twitter @briansciaretta.

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