'Fingers crossed': Eric Lichaj hopeful of a long-awaited USMNT recall

MLS may not be in his immediate future, but a trip back to the States could come as early as next month.

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For the last 10 years, England has been home for Eric Lichaj.

He met his wife there. Both of his children were born there. And if he had it his way, he’d finish his career there. At age 28, though, one of Lichaj’s top goals remains at home in the United States, where he was born and raised in the Chicago area.

Lichaj hopes to be a part of the U.S. men’s national team for World Cup qualifiers in March, and more importantly for the tournament in Russia in 2018. Last week, U.S. coach Bruce Arena said the Nottingham Forest fullback is among the players under consideration for a call-up in March.

“It excited me, and it gave me more motivation. Because that’s definitely something I want, to get back in the team,” Lichaj told FourFourTwo. “I feel like I can provide something, whether it’s starting in the squad or on the bench. I think I can provide something to the U.S. team for the qualifiers and for the upcoming World Cup.”

It was a leap of faith when Lichaj first went overseas for a few trials with English clubs. He ended up with a contract at Aston Villa, but a tumultuous first year with the Premier League side nearly saw the experience end there.

Instead, during the summer break, Lichaj vowed to overcome his injuries – he had missed several months with a broken metatarsal – and become one of the most-fit players on the team. It would be a transformative decision for Lichaj, both professionally and personally.

Lichaj bounced between Villa’s first team and loan spells for the next four seasons, ultimately making 32 EPL appearances. In 2013-14, he moved to Nottingham Forest, where he has become a fixture on the back line.

The Championship is a grind, with plenty of talent to go along with a season that features 46 games. Lichaj has stayed healthy, playing in 138 league appearances over the last three-and-a-half seasons.

Lichaj said his greatest strength is his 1-v-1 defending, and he rates himself able to shut down the opposing team’s most important player when given the task. Lichaj is also able to get up the field and into the attack, though he said he’s as comfortable playing a deep line and defending for 90 minutes.

It’s with Forest that Lichaj has also put his versatility on display, including this year, where he’s worn the captain’s armband over the last few weeks.

“I’ve played almost half my games at left back and the other half at right back,” Lichaj said. “I have different qualities on both sides. I’m more comfortable defending on the left, but on the right side I feel more comfortable on the ball. I have no clue why. Maybe it’s how I’m standing on the pitch. I feel like I can play both positions.

“I don’t make excuses if I play on the left. It’s not playing out of position. If I’m playing right or left back, I can produce something for us or if I’m called up with the USA. I know I can do it there.”

Forest has become a comfortable home for Lichaj, who said he has looked into getting a British passport since his wife and kids are all citizens. He’s embraced life in England – he jokes that he’s no longer looked at as a foreigner – and though he keeps up with his hometown Chicago Fire to see how the team is doing, he’s not sure if MLS is in his future.

“I’ve been here four years and I’m really enjoying it,” Lichaj said. “If I could end my career at Nottingham, I probably would, even if the opportunity to go back to MLS was on. Saying that, I’m only 28, so I don’t know what will happen in three or four years time.”

But while MLS might not be in his immediate future, Lichaj hopes a trip to the U.S. isn’t too far away. He has been in touch with Arena’s staff over email and awaits the all-important phone call summoning him for duty. His family is already about taking a trip to California to see the U.S. play Honduras.

“I’ve got my fingers crossed,” Lichaj said.

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Paul Tenorio is a reporter for FourFourTwo. He works as a freelance reporter on Fire home TV broadcasts. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulTenorio.