Not so long ago a doctor told Joshua Gatt that, after constant knee injuries, it was time to retire.
On Wednesday, the once-rising star of U.S. Soccer officially signed with Minnesota United FC.
“Coming here, I know that we have a fresh, clean slate with a really good group of guys,” Gatt said. “And I think we can really do some damage to this league.”
Gatt, a 25-year-old Michigan native, signed with Austrian club SC Rheindorf Altach out of high school before joining Molde FK in Norway’s top division in 2011. He was on the team when it won its first three league championships.
But with those good moments came some bad. Three bad moments, to be exact.
The winger endured an ACL injury in his left knee in 2013 – right before he was supposed to join the U.S. men’s national team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup – and had surgery back in the U.S. to fix the problem.
After eight months doing rehab, Gatt reinjured the same knee trying to cut in a training session, ruling him out of another season. He had surgery again, this time in Norway, and was finally back and ready to play 15 months later.
But five minutes after coming in as a substitute in his first game back, he went in for a challenge and felt another pop.
That was when his doctor in Norway told him his playing career was done.
But former U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who had given Gatt his two caps for the U.S. after some appearances with the under-20 side, directed Gatt to a doctor in Germany who revealed there was some cartilage damage and a meniscus tear. The doctor also said the second surgery hadn’t repaired the ACL correctly, healing it to the PCL, which caused added stress on the knee. That doctor told Gatt, “You’re going to play again. I’m going to fix you.”
Another round of post-operation rehabilitation later – and a minor groin injury that delayed his return a little longer – Gatt did play again this past fall, finishing out Molde’s season as a starter.
Gatt said he felt “relaxed” to finally be back on the pitch. Even a bicycle kick to the knee in his first match back after three surgeries didn’t faze him.
Gatt said his first contact with United about the team’s interest wasn’t so long ago toward the end of January. Manny Lagos, United’s sporting director, said Gatt has been on his radar for a while.
Gatt was out of contract with Molde after this past season, having decided to move on looking for a new challenge. United acquired him on a free transfer through the discovery process in Major League Soccer, in which clubs can scout and sign players not under contract to the league yet.
He has been with the team training in Portland and could potentially play for the first time as a Loon at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Real Salt Lake at Providence Park.
“Josh has always been one of the up-and-coming young soccer stars in the U.S.,” Lagos said, adding he thinks Gatt is one of the fastest players in the league. “We’re really excited to have him on board.”
Gatt joins a stacked section of the roster including Kevin Molino, Johan Venegas, Miguel Ibarra and Bashkim Kadrii, all of whom can play on the wings. While Gatt played right-back his first season in Norway because the team was short-staffed, he said the position wasn’t natural for him even though his speed helped him perform well on the back line.
United coach Adrian Heath said he’s more interested in using Gatt on the attack than shifting him back to a thinner fullback spot.
“He’s a little bit different than the others we have because Josh’s main attribute is his speed. That’s what he’s sort of made his reputation on, the fact that he’s incredibly quick,” Heath said. “So that’s another little option for us. Another little string to our bow, if you like, that we have got alternatives now. But it’s another one for the forward positions so competitions going to be pretty tough and fierce for them.”
TOP: Joshua Gatt practiced with Minnesota United while the team trained recently in Portland, Ore. Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune