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Eric Lichaj in Philly: "I Know I Can Play a Lot Better"

The 28-year-old Illinois native scored a big goal against El Salvador last night but he also struggled at times including a poor back-pass in the opening minutes of the match that almost led to a goal.
BY Franco Panizo Posted
July 20, 2017
7:00 AM

PHILADELPHIA—Scoring a goal is usually one of the biggest and best takeaways players can have when analyzing and reflecting on their individual performances.

Such was not the case for Eric Lichaj, however.

The U.S. national team topped El Salvador by a 2-0 mark in a CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals encounter at Century Link Field on Wednesday, but Lichaj was not overly enthused about his performance in the match despite opening his international account.

The veteran right back was instead disappointed with his overall showing, dwelling on the mistakes he made throughout his shift rather than celebrating and cherishing the well-taken goal he scored in first-half stoppage time to give the U.S. some breathing room.

“The first 45 was really bad,” said Lichaj. “I just tried to keep it simple, but the first pass back to Tim [Howard] was not very good at all. I told him, ‘Thank you,’ at the end of the game because that was a big save and he got me out of the dirt there.”

The play Lichaj was talking about came a mere three minutes into the match when the 28-year-old defender failed to make good contact on a backpass toward his own goal. El Salvador forward Rodolfo Zelaya pounced on the lazy ball and looked ready to have a clear 1-on-1 opportunity, but an astute Tim Howard darted off his line to thwart the danger.

Lichaj said after the match that he might have taken the opponent for granted. It showed if that was the case, as he looked shaky and somewhat out of sorts for much of the opening stanza. Lichaj’s passing was not particularly sharp, and his defending was not great either.

“Still needs a little more experience at this level, but he fits in well with the team and that’s a position we need help,” said U.S. head coach Bruce Arena of Lichaj. “DeAndre Yedlin was injured for a fair amount last year. We didn’t have him for all of our games and it’s nice to know that Eric is a player that perhaps we can depend on and can help us in that position.”

Lichaj eventually salvaged his first-half outing with a nice run into the box and subsequent solid finish for the Americans’ insurance goal. Still, Lichaj made some mistakes after the intermission. One of the more notable ones came in the 52nd minute when Lichaj—perhaps due to the lack of experience at the international level that Arena mentioned—allowed a route-one ball to bounce by him.

The decision nearly proved costly, as Denis Pineda got inside of Lichaj and raced forward unbothered before hitting a low shot that did not miss the mark by much. Lichaj got away with one on that play, but took it as a lesson learned.

“I thought he was going to take a big touch and tap it around me, but he’d done really well and went inside and I couldn’t stay with him,” said Lichaj. “I knew I was beat so I tried to grab him and pull him down, but I couldn’t get a hold of him properly and thankfully he scuffed the shot and it went wide.

“That’s another moment I had in my head. I was hoping [no media members] would’ve brought up, but I don’t look at the good stuff. I just remember the bad stuff I do in games because I always need to improve and I try not to let myself get too comfortable. That’s another moment that I need to look at and assess and just need to make myself get better.”

Improvements will have to be made quickly if Lichaj is to cement a place in Arena’s plans ahead of the fall’s World Cup Qualifiers. Lichaj is currently battling with Graham Zusi for the reserve right back spot behind Yedlin, and every chance to make an impression counts.

Lichaj knows and understands that full well, which is why he was in no mood to rejoice on Wednesday night.

“The way I played in the first 45 Bruce will be saying, ‘Should we go with Eric?’” said Lichaj. “That’s what I’m thinking. I need to sort that out, because I know in my head that’s not good enough and I know I can play a lot better.”

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