GREGORY DIXON/Herald photoStanding 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing over 200 pounds, redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Alex Horwath’s imposing presence in the goal is matched only by his natural talent and athletic ability. “He has some special physical tools that allow him to carry out what is expected of him,” assistant coach Nick Pasquarello said. The spectacular play of Horwath is one of the reasons the University of Wisconsin men’s soccer team has roared to a 4-2 start in 2007. After a tough loss in the home opener against Tulsa, the UW men’s squad strung together an impressive four-game winning streak, including tough wins over ranked opponents California and Gonzaga. More impressive is that the Badgers’ stingy defense and Horwath’s solid play led to shutouts of all of their opponents during their winning streak.Horwath’s efforts in goal have not gone unnoticed. Recently, he was selected as the Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week and only a week before, was nominated to the Top Drawer SoccerNational Team of the Week. The goalkeeper also boasts a remarkable active shutout streak of more than 366 minutes. “He is a very confident goalkeeper. He is totally focused and determined no matter what is presented in front of him,” Pasquarello said.However, success hasn’t always come easy to Horwath. Before coming to Wisconsin, Horwath was forced to take a medical redshirt after suffering a devastating knee injury early in the 2005 season while playing at the University of Connecticut. The road to recovery was long and arduous, but it was an experience that has had a profound impact on him. “It’s been a long trip back,” Horwath said. “Now I take every day like it could be my last because it almost was my last a few years ago. After the injury, rehab was a completely different ballgame, more challenging mentally than physically. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to play again.”Despite facing considerable odds, Horwath’s unparalleled work ethic and perseverance were enough to convince head coach Jeff Rohrman to offer him a spot on the UW roster. “He is one of the hardest working guys you’re ever going to meet, and he is always trying to improve,” Rohrman said.”All through the spring he was able to show what he can do, and he earned the respect of the players around him.” So far, Rohrman’s gamble seems to be paying off as Horwath’s play has helped the Badgers immensely. The men’s team is currently ranked 20th in the nation, marking the first time the Badgers have been ranked since 2002.Both Rohrman and Pasquarello have seen great potential and an emotional spark in Horwath during his time at UW. “He brings the right mentality. He wants us to get to the NCAA championships and play in the Big Ten Championship games,” Rohrman said.For a team that has been thrust into the spotlight of rankings and reputations, the UW coaching staff is hopeful that Horwath’s emergence as a very vocal and emotional leader will be able to keep the Badgers grounded in their quest for a championship. “He already is one of the vocal leaders on the team,” Pasquarello said.”He has all the leadership qualities that you look for in a goalkeeper. You look at the goalkeeper as an extension of the coaching staff on the field. He can see the whole game in front of him. He needs to be out there barking out commands and making sure guys are doing the right thing.” Horwath is more than ready to accept the responsibilities associated with a leadership position. “A good goalkeeper doesn’t need to make many saves because he is directing things from the back. I try to play that quarterback position, directing people where to be so I don’t have to make the saves,” Horwath said.As the men’s team begins to head into the more competitive portion of the season, Badger fans can count on the watchful eyes of Horwath to be focused on the chance to compete for a national championship in the near future.