The defender has not played for the U.S. national team in more than 28 months, but his recent call-up will be his chance to show why he should be an option for Jurgen Klinsmann
Lichaj’s last appearance for the USA came in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, an infamous result that saw Lichaj shifted from left back to right back for an injured Steve Cherundolo, and saw Lichaj and Jonathan Bornstein struggle as Mexico rattled off four unanswered goals on the way to a 4-2 victory.
Before that match, Lichaj had been a revelation at the Gold Cup, starting the final four matches of the tournament at left back. A 22-year-old capable of playing both full back positions, and at the time a player for Aston Villa, Lichaj looked very much like a national team defender for the future.
Then came the loss to Mexico and Bob Bradley’s subsequent firing as U.S. head coach. In came Jurgen Klinsmann, who had other ideas for the full back positions in the following years. Even when Lichaj was able to earn a starting role for Aston Villa, as he did at the close of the 2012 English Premier League season, he couldn’t manage a single call-up.
Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson were preferred full back options early on before Klinsmann converted DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Evans into full backs to give the national team pool some depth and starting alternatives at two traditionally weak positions.
Photos: World Cup winners | 2014 World Cup teams
Lichaj left Aston Villa over the summer and the move is probably the best thing he could have done. He joined Nottingham Forest and has become a fixture for the club at right back. He has earned plaudits for steady play at the position and basically removed any possible excuses Klinsmann could still have for not giving him a look (though Klinsmann has never stopped considering Lichaj).
Consider the call-up a first step for the now 24-year-old. Evans has established himself as a steady starting right back option, though he can hardly be called an irreplaceable part of the U.S. defense. Lichaj will have his opportunity to stack up against the Seattle Sounders utility man, and should have a chance to see the field in one or both of the upcoming U.S. friendlies against Scotland and Austria.
Should we expect Lichaj to snatch the starting job away from Evans? Perhaps not right away, but there is little denying his natural talent at the right back position. When given the chance to play there at Aston Villa, he had some truly impressive performances, including a memorable clash with Gareth Bale and Tottenham that saw Lichaj get the better of the current Real Madrid player.
Lichaj could also be auditioning for some time at left back. Beasley isn’t getting any younger and Fabian Johnson is a more attractive option as a left midfielder. That really only leaves Edgar Castillo as a left back option in the current pool, and his defensive weaknesses are well-documented. That isn’t to say Lichaj is as good a left back as right back, but he just might be able to play himself into a starting role there just as he did on the U.S. team back in 2011.
Lichaj has the defensive chops to hold down right back, the versatility to give Klinsmann depth at left back and the attacking qualities Klinsmann likes to see from his full backs. Now, with regular playing time helping to boost his confidence, Lichaj will need to impress. This is the opportunity he has spent more than two years waiting for, his first real chance to replace the fading memories of that forgettable Gold Cup final with new memories of a revived role on the national team.
MORE THOUGHTS ON THE USA ROSTER
Brek Shea hasn’t seen a minute of playing time for Stoke City in the Premier League this season, but that didn’t stop Klinsmann from bringing the winger in for a closer look. The U.S. coach’s affection for Shea is well-documented, but the latest call-up shows just how much Klinsmann is hoping Shea’s situation can be sorted out so he can be a viable option in the national team pool again.
Shea’s inclusion was a bit of a surprise, but not when you consider the fact Johnson is only just returning from injury, Landon Donovan is resting an ankle injury of his own and Graham Zusi and Davis are still competing in the MLS playoffs.
Once you include those names you realize just how far off the pace Shea really is in the grand scheme of things with the national team, and that won’t change unless he starts earning some regular playing time.
The rest of the roster was pretty predictable, with Chris Wondolowski being only a bit of a surprise considering the news that he played a large part of the year with a broken bone on his foot that he has yet to have surgery on.
PROJECTED LINEUP AGAINST SCOTLAND:
Tim Howard; Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, DaMarcus Beasley; Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud; Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson.
Klinsmann could deploy a 4-4-2 with Altidore and Johannsson or he could go with a 4-3-3 that deploys those two along with Bedoya in the front three. That would leave a diamond midfield of Diskerud, Bradley and Jones.