Eric Lichaj

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USMNT heading into end of Berhalter’s first year

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Preface: This is a long preface to a forthcoming Q&A and Best XI roundtable with the PST staff, inspired by a pretty passionate staff meeting on Wednesday.

Gregg Berhalter actually has more time to mess around with the USMNT than any manager in recent history, and that’s not a veiled shot at the federation hierarchy.

Winning Gold Cups and the CONCACAF Nations League would be great, and we’d love to see Jason Kreis’ U-23 men deliver a rare Olympic appearance and success, but the gold standard for the USMNT remains its performance in the World Cup.

Even a still-growing soccer culture like the American one should sleepwalk into a World Cup with adequate management, but we’ve seen failure is not an impossible when Jurgen Klinsmann and later Bruce Arena combined to give other teams a chance at their spot.

[ MORE: USMNT-Uruguay recapPlayer ratings ]

Qualifying is going to be come an after thought in just one more cycle when the field grows ahead of the 2026 tournament, and the 2022 World Cup qualification process is a bit easier for CONCACAF’s powers.

The Hexagonal remains as the final stage of qualifying for a World Cup, but the Hex members will not have to participate in a fourth round in order to advance to the stage. FIFA instead will give new responsibility to its Nations League.

The six teams to qualify for the Hex will be based on FIFA ratings, a heavy shot to any country not named Mexico and the Unites States (and, perhaps, Costa Rica). Not only are the FIFA ratings far from ideal, it’s a rarity that teams other than aforementioned three are in the Top 40.

Average rankings since start of FIFA system

Mexico: 15
USA: 21
Costa Rica: 45
Honduras: 55
Jamaica: 60
Trinidad and Tobago: 67
Canada: 80
Panama: 89
El Salvador: 93

There’s one more step for the fourth place team after the Hex, which sees three teams qualify for the World Cup. The fourth place team previously would meet a playoff team from another confederation for a berth in the World Cup, but now has to face the “champion” of teams ranked 7th and lower in CONCACAF in a pre-playoff playoff.

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

All of this is to say Berhalter’s job, overly-simplified, is:

  1. Qualify for the World Cup
  2. Reach the final of all CONCACAF competitions
  3. Look like an adequate footballing nation in other competitions
  4. Make sure he doesn’t lose any talented dual nationals (also the GM’s job)

This is an awfully long runway to say that Berhalter’s USMNT is still a solid year away from playing a match that truly affects Goal No. 1 (The rankings used are from June 2020, and the Hex games will not begin until September).

No. 2 involves beating Cuba twice and taking at least four of six points from Canada over the next four months. The former should be straight-forward. The latter a challenge (especially if this group is tasked with stopping Alphonso Davies and Co.).

No. 3, so far, is a resounding meh. The Yanks have beaten a bunch of B-teams and then Jamaica and Ecuador. They’ve lost to literally everyone of consequence besides draws versus the B-plus teams of Chile and Uruguay (the latter coming Tuesday).

He has eight wins, four losses and two draws. The wins are over Panama (2x), Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, and Jamaica. The losses: Mexico (2x), Jamaica, Venezuela.

Home-and-away CNL matches against Cuba and Canada will finish his first year in charge.

As for job objective No. 3, the pressing matter is one Sergino Dest. The Ajax right back made his USMNT debut this international break, switched to the left side — he’s played some there as a youth, but almost exclusively on the right — in order to, we guess, see if he can be the answer to a USMNT question that goes back to DaMarcus Beasley’s defensive prime.

That’s actually okay, provided Berhalter let Dest know the objective. We have to assume that’s the case, because using him at left back in the “system” which utilizes center midfielder Tyler Adams as a right back would be an dramatic waste of pace and creativity.

Ultimately, that’s why the bad performances cause so much consternation amongst USMNT supporters. Berhalter is a good coach, but his management has been baffling from the outside looking into camp.

Berhalter believes he can “Herb Brooks” an amazing team out of components. He needs results to boost anyone’s confidence that’s possible, and is not getting them. Trusting the process is difficult when there hasn’t been a hat-hanging moment from a very protected schedule of fixtures.

We also have to note that the USMNT, not one of the deepest pools in the world by any stretch of the imagination, was without John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Adams, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and DeAndre Yedlin for both matches of this break, and lost Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Alfredo Morales, and Zack Steffen for the second.

Perhaps the overall American soccer community bears some responsibility for this, treating the process like blooding youth and ignoring experience is the way to get the job done.

That’s what cuts so deep about the USMNT problem, which is shared by so few countries in the world: The Yanks obviously aren’t a side like Germany, Brazil or even England, where the next player up is going to be guaranteed adequate during the experimentation process.

The question is whether they are more like Panama or Costa Rica, who are going to call in effective players regardless of whether there’s a 3 at the start of their age or not. Whataboutism is brutal, but shoot, if we’re going to spend two years and use every advanced stat we can find to berate Jurgen Klinsman for not calling up 30-year-old Benny Feilhaber and his 1 assist in 40 caps, then perhaps it’s fitting we discuss Bundesliga and Championship starters not getting called up in positions of weakness (Fabian Johnson, Eric Lichaj).

And, honestly, I want my national team to be one who takes a look at short-term solutions and in-form players. For example — and this is going to make a lot of people yell — if Berhalter is going to call up the 150th best player in MLS on a regular basis, can he put the same league trust in a 28-year-old having the best season of any American in the domestic league? For every 500-word think piece on Andrew Carleton when he’s 17 and how he projects, maybe trust information if it tells you a slightly older guy might be onto something?

Familiarity and “my guys” is a concept a lot of coaches choose, but let’s look at the 2019 seasons of the following wide men. Three were called up by Berhalter, while the fourth is the above-named player (via WhoScored’s comparison tool).

Moving on, consider this very basic exercise as simply an observation. Look at the players by their FIFA ratings (thanks, USMNT Only).

Getting past the hilarious 69 put on Timothy Weah and a pretty lofty 76 handed to DeAndre Yedlin, the names still in gold half-inspire this question: Should the American national team be ignoring players based on age?

For now, and at the Gold Cup, that’s okay. But the question is where are we as a nation? Fabian Johnson is 31 and Darlington Nagbe 29, but is it fair to completely rule them out of the fold due to perceived attitude and age? And should

Let’s leave Pulisic, Bradley, McKennie, Altidore, and any injured players out of the equation and ask the difference, if any, between these two sides in a theoretical match right now (Hint: It’s not about league).

Two notes: This assumes every player is convinced to accept a call-up, as Darlington Nagbe isn’t loving the Berhalter era and several vets would require a conversation.

Also, It was very hard to find a striker for the second squad with Sargent and Zardes in camp while Altidore is excused to be with Toronto FC. Thinnnnnnn….

Tuesday’s Starters vs. Uruguay

Guzan

Cannon — Long — Ream — Dest

Yueill

Lletget — Roldan

Boyd — Sargent — Morris

– versus –

Wood

  Johnson — Green — Pomykal

 Nagbe — Cameron

Robinson — Opara  — Birnbaum  — Lichaj

Horvath

Unused/uncalled XI

All of the above theoretical exercises are merely fueled by the end of a painful international break — both in results and activity, so thanks for coming back club soccer — but the fact that it isn’t a “Yeah, clearly the team that started would’ve won” situation should say something, and it’s also why we still really don’t know where we are with Berhalter Ball one year into the project.

VIDEO: USMNT back Lichaj sets up pretty Hull City goal

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American defender Eric Lichaj has his first Hull City assist after setting up Fraizer Campbell for a goal before halftime of Tuesday’s Championship match at Rotherham United.

[ MORE: Spurs considering Carter-Vickers loan ]

Lichaj took advantage of hesitant defending and zipped in front of a Rotherham defender to send a low ball into the heart of the 18, where Campbell’s cute touch gave the Tigers a first lead of the game at 2-1.

The 29-year-old fullback joined Hull following 190 appearances for Nottingham Forest, and has also suited up for Aston Villa, Leeds United, Leyton Orient, and Lincoln City.

Lichaj has 15 caps and a goal for the USMNT, including four apps since July 2017. He is one of a handful of veteran players who may benefit from new eyes at the helm of the U.S. men’s national team.

USMNT back Lichaj finds new home in Championship

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Eric Lichaj is going to bring his Premier League promotion dreams to a new Championship club.

The 29-year-old USMNT fullback has been a key part of Nottingham Forest to the tune of 188 appearances since moving from Aston Villa in 2013.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

But he’s on the move, joining Nigel Adkins at Hull City on the heels of a three-goal season at Forest. He famously scored a pair of goals in a 4-2 FA Cup win over Arsenal, then naming his new dog Gunner.

“It’s a fresh start for me and I want to repay Hull City for the faith that they have shown in me by bringing me here. I’ll be working my hardest, as I always do, every day in training and on matchdays.”

The versatile American can play left or right back, and has pushed his way back into the national team picture. Lichaj has 15 caps with a goal for the USMNT.

Also, #AStarInStripes? We see you, Hull

His name is Gunner: Lichaj gets his dog despite no hat trick

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Oh, the magic of the Cup…

Eric Lichaj‘s greatest wish in life — to welcome a brand new member, of the canine variety, into his family — has finally come true.

[ MORE: Wenger says no approaches for Alexis Sanchez… yet ]

After scoring a brace (including this stunning volley from the edge of the box — WATCH HERE) in Nottingham Forest’s 4-2 victory over Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday, Lichaj told the post-game television interviewer, “My wife told me that if I score a hat trick this year, I can get a dog. … I was trying to get the penalty, but Vaughany (David Vaughan) told me politely to go away.”

On Monday, the entire footballing world — from fans of Forest, to fans of other clubs and even teammates — got behind the cause and helped Lichaj promote the #getericadog hashtag.

It worked. (Look away, Arsenal fans, for the newest member of the Lichaj family is named… Gunner. Yes, really.)

Relax, it was just banter.

FA Cup Roundup: Forest stuns Arsenal, Spurs roll, West Ham held

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League One side Shrewsbury Town impressed against West Ham, Spurs rode Harry Kane to victory, and a weak Arsenal lineup slumped to an embarrassing defeat on the road as the FA Cup third round continued on Sunday.

In the early game, West Ham had almost nothing going forward against the League One opposition, with Shrewsbury out-possessing the Hammers 56%-44% at home and they out-shot their Premier League opponents 9-4. Joe Hart was forced to make a pair of saves within a minute near the end of the first half while wearing a baseball cap to keep the game scoreless in what proved to be the best two chances of the game.

City Ground was the site of the day’s biggest upset as Nottingham Forest downed Arsenal 4-2 thanks to a pair of goals from American international Eric Lichaj. He struck first 20 minutes in when the defender snuck behind the entire defensive pack on a lateral set-piece and headed home right on the doorstep to put Notthingham Forest 1-0 up.

[ VIDEO: USMNT defender Eric Lichaj scores brilliant volley against Arsenal ]

The Gunners responded almost immediately as Per Mertesacker capitalized on the scramble after a Theo Walcott free-kick hit the post via the head of Rob Holding, but it would’t hold. Lichaj struck again just before halftime in absolutely stunning fashion with a wonderful volley into the top corner for a 2-1 lead. Forest would add some insurance past the hour mark as Rob Holding fouled Matthew Cash in the penalty area and dangerous 18-year-old Ben Brereton deservedly converted from the spot, sending David Ospina the wrong way.

Arsenal held 70% possession throughout the match, but the weak side that included Mathieu Debuchy, Mohamed Elneny, Reiss Nelson, and Theo Walcott managed just two shots on target until the 79th minute when Danny Welbeck pulled out a consolation, but again it didn’t last as Mathieu Debuchy fouled Armand Traore in the area and Kieran Dowell roofed it despite slipping. On the other end, Forest looked the side with more cutting edge as Brereton and his supporting cast looked far more dangerous against Holding and Mertesacker. They were reduced to 10 men with a minute left in regulation after Joe Worrall was given a second yellow for a bad foul, but they held on strong.

And finally, it took Tottenham an hour to break through, but Spurs eased by AFC Wimbledon 3-0 on a quickfire double from – who else – Harry Kane. The England star scored in the 63rd minute and again in the 65th minute to put Spurs well in front. Defender Jan Vertonghen put the game away six minutes later to put Spurs three-up. Kane started next to new signing Fernando Llorente, but the Spaniard struggled to have an effect on the game.