By IVES GALARCEP
If you are wondering who the guy is defending against Liverpool star Steven Gerrard is, it is American fullback Eric Lichaj. He just happens to be the only American defender playing with any regularity in the English Premier League (Geoff Cameron has been more midfielder than defender so far for Stoke), and has been doing so since the early part of 2012.
If you're thinking "who doesn't know that's Eric Lichaj", you could argue that it seems like Jurgen Klinsmann has no idea who he is. How else do you explain the fact that Lichaj has yet to wear the U.S. national team uniform since Klinsmann became head coach almost 14 months ago?
No, I don't honestly think Klinsmann has NO idea who Lichaj is, but it does make you wonder just how a player like Lichaj has been overlooked repeatedly. Yes, there are plenty of other players who could make up a list regular Klinsmann snubs (Sacha Kljestan anybody?) but for my money no player has been more curious a snub than Lichaj.
He is young, talented, versatile, played multiple positions where the U.S. national team lacks real depth, and he happens to play in one of the best leagues in the world.
So why hasn't Lichaj been called up yet?
Last February, when the USA played Italy, Lichaj was not yet a true regular for Aston Villa, but when it came time to select players for the U.S. team's friendlies and World Cup qualifiers in May and June Lichaj had enjoyed a lengthy run of matches for Villa. He played well during that run, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan stated pretty clearly that he felt Lichaj had played well enough to earn a call-up.
Klinsmann saw differently and passed Lichaj over.
Fast forward to the new Premier League season and Lichaj came into the new campaign expected to battle for playing time under new manager Paul Lambert. When Klnsmann snubbed Lichaj for the August friendly against Mexico, and then the September qualifiers against Jamaica, the argument could have been made that Klinsmann was letting Lichaj stay in England and fight for his starting role under Lambert.
Lichaj has done that and he's become a starter yet again. He has enjoyed a solid early-season run as Villa's left back (though he is a natural right back) and when you watch him play you can't help but wonder how anyone could think he isn't one of the top three or four fullbacks in the national team pool.
The only person whose opinion matters though is Klinsmann, and he will have another chance to call Lichaj in two weeks, for the national team's upcoming qualifiers against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala. If Lichaj is healthy and still playing regularly for Aston Villa there will be no excuse for Klinsmann not to call him up.
Klinsmann has stuck to his "we have a depth chart" mantra whenever he is asked about players who haven't received national team call-ups, but when you consider Lichaj's status as a regular starter in a top league, and his ability to play both right back and left back, that excuse just doesn't hold much weight. After current starters Fabian Johnson and Steve Cherundolo, there is no fullback in the pool you can say is clearly better (or even as good) as Lichaj (unless you count Timmy Chandler, and what USMNT fan wants to do that anymore?).
With Steve Cherundolo coming to the final chapter of his career, with the lack of quality left back options behind Fabian Johnson, and with the uncertain future of Chandler's U.S. national team career, Lichaj should be receiving a phone call from Klinsmann sooner rather than later.
Assuming Klinsmann actually has his phone number.