For many fans in England, Eric Lichaj's two-goal effort in Nottingham Forest's stunning 4-2 FA Cup victory against Arsenal was the first they had really heard of the American, but it was just the latest turn in a career filled with memorable highs and painful lows.
The U.S. national team defender scored a pair of first-half goals — including a stunning volley from 18 yards out — as the Championship side shocked the Gunners in the FA Cup third round Sunday, sending Arsene Wenger's side out of the competition.
It was the first two-goal game for Lichaj, who entered the match with just seven goals over 254 appearances in all competitions playing for Aston Villa, Lincoln City, Leyton Orient, Leeds United and Forest.
The historic triumph saw Arsenal lose its third-round matchup for the first time since falling to Sheffield United in January 1996, seven months before hiring Wenger as manager. And the fact that Lichaj played a major role in Forest's win shocked just about everyone on both sides of the Atlantic.
U.S. fans may remember Lichaj for his stints with the national team, while English fans may recognize his name due to the amount of clubs he's played for from League Two to the Premier League. His journey has been one that is filled with ups and downs, but nothing tops what he was able to accomplish on the global stage against Arsenal.
So how did it all begin? And what have we missed as Lichaj bounced around England looking to make his soccer dreams come true?
Lichaj's formative years as a pro prospect took place in the U.S. Under-17 national team residency program, where he spent three years playing alongside the likes of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu. A knee injury just before the 2005 World Cup cost him a chance to play in the tournament. The injury bug struck again a year later, when a broken foot forced Lichaj to miss his freshman year — and only season — at the University of North Carolina before signing with Aston Villa in the summer of 2007.
After a year in Aston Villa's youth setup, and two with the Villa reserves, Lichaj continued his climb in the English leagues with loans in League Two and League One, before finally impressing Aston Villa enough for a chance at first-team minutes.
Another of Lichaj's career high points came in December of 2010, when then-Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier gave the defender a start against Tottenham and a matchup with the speedy Gareth Bale. Lichaj effectively neutralized Bale, even forcing the now-Real Madrid man to try his luck on the side opposite of Lichaj in an eventual 2-1 Tottenham victory.
Lichaj has shown a penchant for memorable moments against London clubs, having also scored his first Premier League goal — and adding an assist — in a 4-2 Aston Villa loss to Chelsea in March of 2012.
Lichaj's run in the Premier League ended in the summer of 2013, when Aston Villa released him. He signed with Nottingham Forest that same summer, and has been a regular starter ever since, enjoying stints at right back and left back, though he is naturally right-footed.
From an international standpoint, Lichaj showed enough during the 2010-11 season to merit a call from then-U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley for the 2011 Gold Cup, a tournament that saw Lichaj enjoy a breakout run as a steady left-back option. The high he enjoyed in that tournament quickly changed into another career low in the 2011 Gold Cup final, which the Americans lost to Mexico, 4-2, after El Tri scored four unanswered goals in the second half in what wound up being Bradley's last match as U.S. coach.
Bradley's firing wound up coinciding with a two-year disappearance from the national team picture, with new U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann failing to call up Lichaj despite the fact he was one of the few American fullbacks seeing playing time in a top league. Klinsmann wound up taking a look at Lichaj on two different occasions during his five years in charge, but never gave Lichaj a meaningful opportunity, even though the U.S. could have used his services at both left back and right back during that stretch.
Klinsmann's firing paved the way for a national team return for Lichaj, who Bruce Arena identified as a player due for a national team look shortly after he replaced Klinsmann. Arena called in Lichaj to the 2017 U.S. Gold Cup squad, a full six years after his first Gold Cup appearance, and Lichaj endured some ups and downs in the tournament as well. It was his third-minute turnover that gifted El Salvador a golden scoring opportunity, only to have Tim Howard step up and spare Lichaj the shame of a goal-causing blunder. Lichaj responded in that same Gold Cup quarterfinal by scoring the first goal of his national team career, an excellent finish he followed up with the very same belly flop goal celebration he showed off following the first of his two goals against Arsenal.
The U.S. went on to win the 2017 Gold Cup, and Lichaj earned another national team call for the U.S. team's September World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras, but he was struggling for regular playing time for Nottingham Forest, which eventually left him out of the picture for the U.S. team's fateful qualifying loss against Trinidad & Tobago in October. That ultimately cost Lichaj what was likely his last chance to play in a World Cup.
The 29-year-old has rebounded once again, reestablishing himself as a Nottingham Forest regular, and even earning a start for the U.S. in November's friendly draw against Portugal. Then came Sunday's heroics against Arsenal, including the world-class finish on his second goal, which made him a worldwide trending topic and helped bring some welcome relief to a Nottingham Forest squad that hadn't won a match since Dec. 9.
Sunday's performance is the latest —and arguably best — high point in a career that has been a roller-coaster ride in the decade since Lichaj left the U.S. to begin his professional career in England.