photo courtesy of Molde FK
By FRANCO PANIZO
Josh Gatt has been a shining star for Molde FK this year, helping the Norwegian club in its quest to repeat as league champions with six goals in the first six months of the Tippeligaen campaign. He has been more productive than he was in his first season with the club in 2011 and shown more maturity on and off the field, but therein lies the problem for Gatt: Staying on the field.
The just-turned 21-year-old suffered a pair of injuries to his left leg earlier this year that not only prevented him from partaking in important matches, but also threatened to derail a season that has been nothing short of excellent. Gatt, however, has fought off those injuries and nearly not missed a beat upon his returns, continuing to show why many consider him one of the best young talents in the American pipeline with his trademark dribbling runs and blazing speed.
"It's been a really good season for me, I felt like I've really started to hit my stride as a player," Gatt told SBI. "I've been very comfortable here in my position and with my team. The (most recent hamstring) injury did set me back, and before the injury I thought I was in great form. I felt I was doing very well for my team and playing very well.
"This injury set me back a little bit and coming back I felt like I've been OK, and I did score a goal (this past weekend) and it was great, but I felt like I could've done better and I always do, I always believe I can be better. I think I still have a long way to go to get back to my old form I was at before the injury, but it's not too far away, and it's not something that's unreachable."
What Gatt, who plays as a right midfielder in Molde's 4-4-1-1 formation, has done this season even through the injuries is score the second-highest goal total on the team in just 14 league appearances and the highest tally of his short career. The most recent tally came in the third minute of this past Sunday's 2-0 win over Valerenga, when the versatile attacker raced past a pair of defenders to get on the end of a long ball played over the top before calmly slotting the winner past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
That type of impact has been common when the Plymouth, Mich., native has been able to participate — he has netted in each of his last three Tippeligaen matches — and he attributes his productivity to knowing the ropes at Molde FK after an eventful and educational first season with the club.
"I'd say actually overall this year is a lot easier for all of us, because we know what to expect out of all of us and our routines and what we need to do on and off the field," said Gatt. "I think it's a better environment for all of us now that we're all settled because last year there was a lot of new guys and we all were still trying to feel each other out. Now we've been together for a year and we've exceeded where no one thought what we'd even come close to and we're a better team because of it."
Molde are currently in first place in the league standings with a little more than three months left in the season. The pressure is on the club to repeat, but it has other competitions it needs to be concerned about as well, including the Norwegian Cup and Europa League.
While the loaded schedule has kept Gatt and his teammates busy, the youngster still regrets not being able to participate in Molde's UEFA Champions League campaign. Gatt was still recuperating from his hamstring knock when Molde had to play Swiss side FC Basel in the third qualifying round of the competition in early August, and he was forced to mere spectator as Molde lost, 2-1, on aggregate in the two-legged series.
"That was a really tough experience, being at both those games and having to watch from the stands, especially when, for me, I was starting and playing in most of the games this season up until this injury," said Gatt. "To be knocked down by injury and not be able to participate with my team was really tough and really hard to watch."
Being unable to participate as Molde failed to accomplish their goal in the Champions League was not the only time Gatt has had to watch helplessly in his brief time as a professional. It was not even the first time this year.
In March, Gatt was summoned to return to his club from international duty in the early stages of what eventually turned out to be the U.S. Under-23 men's national team's failed bid to reach this past summer's Olympics in London. Gatt's departure saw the U.S. team lose one of their most talented players and while leaving was difficult for him, it was something he had to do.
"Whatever (Molde head coach Ole Gunnar Solksjaer) says goes," said Gatt. "That's the man who pays me, so I had to leave and fly home and it was tough to hear and listen that the U.S. team was losing. I heard the night actually that I had my first league game, they lost to Canada, 2-0, and I scored a game-winning goal for my team, so I guess sometimes fate has a weird way of working out.
"It was really tough to hear they weren't going to be in the Olympics, especially to teams that I figured they would be able to beat pretty soundly with the talent that was on the team. I guess it wasn't their tournament and they got really unlucky."
Gatt has not represented the United States at any level since being called into Olympic qualifying, but that does not mean he is not on the radar for a full team call-up from U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. He is, and he's been close to being selected in recent months.
"U.S. Soccer has been in contact with my coach keeping up with how I've been doing," said Gatt. "Jurgen and Ole have had many talks, and there's been a couple of times where they've chosen me to come into a camp as a reserve or a back-up if someone got injured, and that was before they had really seen me play in Norway.
"But just recently, actually, a scout came from U.S. Soccer to watch me play and they were here so they saw me play in Norway and there might be chances that I might be called into a couple of camps in the future. But it's all up in the air and nothing I can really focus on, otherwise I'd get too distracted."
Another possible distraction that could come Gatt's way in the not-too-distant future is a possible move away from Molde. Gatt was linked with clubs last offseason and though he recently signed a contract extension through 2015 with the Norwegian club, more teams are likely to come calling if he continues to perform at the level he has shown thus far this year.
"I've heard some things that my agent has been in contact with some clubs in Germany and some clubs in England," said Gatt. "But they want to see how I do this season, and with the injuries that was a little bit of a setback.
"But I've got to finish strong and then we're going to wait for this December transfer window and see what happens then and if nothing happens then then maybe July. We'll have to wait and see, but I definitely want to move up as far as I can in the soccer world."