Top Stories

Eric Lichaj embracing USMNT leadership role as team undergoes transition


Every team needs a bit of leadership and every team needs one or two elder-statesmen to set a tone. With the U.S. Men’s National Team admittedly in a period of “transition”, Eric Lichaj is one of several players looking to step in and guide the next generation towards the next World Cup cycle.

At 29, Lichaj is the oldest player called into USMNT camp ahead of next Tuesday’s clash with Paraguay. The Nottingham Forest defender is one of just a handful of veterans leading the squad, one headlined by a total of 11 players under the age of 22.

Frequently on the periphery of the USMNT first team, Lichaj is embracing his new role with the current group.

“I take it as it comes,” Lichaj said. ” I always pride myself on working as hard as possible in every training session and I know what it means to put on the shirt for the USA. I’ve done it since I was 14 years old. It means a lot to me and hopefully I can transition that into training and, if the guys have any questions, I’m sure they’ll come and ask me.

“It’s just another opportunity for myself to show the coaching staff what I’m about, and there are a number of new faces I haven’t met before, so it’s about learning some new names and seeing how they play.”

While guiding the next generation is a motivator for Lichaj, it’s not his sole focus. He’s only 29 and in the prime of his career. There’s potentially a spot on the line for him as well and, after several up and down years with the national team, he’s looking to seize it.

Lichaj originally broke through with eight appearances in 2010 and 2011, but call-ups suddenly dried up shortly after. Lichaj made just three USMNT appearances from 2012 to 2017 before he rejoined the fold for this past summer’s Gold Cup.

That tournament saw Lichaj score a memorable quarterfinal goal against El Salvador, his first senior finish. He rejoined the team for World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras, although he did not play, before missing out on the now-infamous trip to Trinidad & Tobago.

When the team’s focus began to shift beginning this past fall, Lichaj was called in as one of several European-based veterans for the USMNT’s draw with Portugal. Now back in the fold, he sees this call-up as another chance to stake his own claim to a fullback spot.

“I guess it’s a transition stage, people would say,” Lichaj said. “You don’t know who will be playing in the future and stuff like that. You have to take every opportunity that you can. For me, I treat every opportunity like its my last. I want to make sure I show the coaching staff how I am as a player and how I am as a character because I think those aspects are very important.

“In the past, not being involved as much, it’s not disappointment. I’m a U.S. Soccer fan and I happen to play for them as well. It’s always nice to be here, and I don’t take any moment for granted.”

The current staff isn’t taking Lichaj for granted either. With such a young squad and an interim staff in place, veteran leadership is vital to helping integrate younger players. With several stars featuring in MLS and another in a state of limbo, its up to players like Lichaj, DeAndre Yedlin and Bobby Wood to set a tone while proving they still belong with the group as a new cycle begins.

“I’ve always been a big believer of a blend in your roster, of young and experience,” interim boss Dave Sarachan said. “Guys like Eric, others like Yedlin, they’ve been through qualifying and been part of the national team and they are massively important to guiding the young guys as to what they should expect and what the level should be. And he’s a good personality, and having good personalities in the group is huge.”

“I’m 29 and I’m one of the older guys,” Lichaj added. “Every day is an opportunity for us. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. You have to show every day in training and in the game next Tuesday, what we’re all about. “


  1. @ imperative voice, what about Bradley leads you to think the guys would listen to him. Most of these guys are in Europe trying to make it at a high level of soccer. Bradley tried, had some success and then came back to the US. Nothing wrong with that except his game went to pot, mostly because his motivation went to pot. He was always a guy that outworked others. He isnt tht guy now, nor has he been that guy in quite a while. Just voted second most overrated in MLS. I dont think he has as much respect from the younger guys. Just my opinion.

    • “He was always a guy that outworked others. He isn’t that guy now, nor has he been that guy in quite a while.”

      Amen BYRDMAN….damn it, AMEN!!!

    • “Some success?” He started in Holland, Germany, and Italy, including Roma. I think the “but he came back” objection is this sort of anti-MLS snobbery that the sheer volume of takers suggests is a minor percentage of players. How many of them spend their whole career in Europe? Not many. Putting him down for overachievement and “hard work?” Well, isn’t that what I want him to pass on? It would be nice to pass on talent or tricks, but in a week in a camp the most likely thing to pass on is work ethic and nuggets on how to handle international play. So someone who earned it working is ideal.

      In terms of respect levels, who does have respect? I think he actually would on the body of work, Beasley is the one really gone to seed, and not many of the 2010 generation are really still around. Maybe Landon but he doesn’t suit up for USA. So who exactly is going to teach? Jozy? Nagbe? He may not be your favorite but who are the choices? Best of a bad lot and he did enough over the years all this anti-MLS sentiment lumped on him is not justice. That 40 yard goal in Mexico? Some of the other big games or big plays? I think people are just upset and taking it out on him. But we need a real mentor and off a crap team that couldn’t quality he’s as close as it gets.

      • But he doesnt work hard now. He doesnt. Its just that obvious to everyone. Same may not want to admit it, but he doesnt. (Excuse absence of apostrophes, i am typing on ipad). I dont have a problem with him coming back and taking the huge check. Good for him. Have a family and be a real dad. Great for him. To me thats a lot more important than European football success, as a man. BUT that doesnt mean at tha stage of his career he ahould be the captain, in camp or have any influence over the team. Only his game earns him that right. Right now he doesnt have the game. Please understand. I think he has been great gor USMNT. Played so many games and always showed up…..until he came back to MLS. Defend it all you want, but the league doesnt measure up yet(nor ahould it after 20years). His return brought his demise as a player. For him, obviously the game isnt his #1 focus, power to him. But keep him away from the young guns coming up.

  2. “It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. You have to show every day in training…”

    Exactly Lichaj, AMEN to that. You have to compete for your position, you need to fight for your spot day in day out, you have to earn your place on the starting 11 and you need to be aware that if you are not at your best (or you decide to jog all game, complain all game or miss chance after chance) you will be on the bench or even off the 22 man roster.
    I hope the USMNT will develop a competitive mindset, and get rid of the entitlement way of thinking that has plagued our team with woes.
    Create the environment early with this young group of players….and use players that already have the mindset (EPL, Championship, Bundesliga, Bundesliga II, Serie A, Belgian First Division A etc) to pilot that particular state of mind

    • Every game I can remember except one that he’s played in the NT shirt he looked a jittery mess. These are professionals who don’t need a professionalism lecture. There are mostly new players who will have something to prove. What you need is a mentor to show them how it’s done, and I mean one who is a regular here.

      If you really want them mentored bring in Beasley, Bradley, people who have been here since the Ice Age, played well for the Nats, and probably have some actual nuggets to pass on about how to excel in the country-soccer setting.

      • “If you really want them mentored bring in Beasley, Bradley, people who have been here since the Ice Age”
        the USSOCCER program is a failure and we are trying to move in a different direction. Why in heavens name would we bring back in leaders that were part of the team that failed repetitively in the first place?? That’s like bring in D grade tutors/mentors while you are looking to get A’s. Better to try something different

      • bizzy: Because the history of US Soccer is the old guard teach the new dogs the ropes and how to handle international play. If you throw out the baby with the bathwater, the whole last generation, out of pique, then the new set of players coming in have to learn all the international play lessons the hard way. So whether you like Bradley or not, or think he can still play or not, he’s played and won long enough he is probably the best of a bad batch to mentor. What’s your suggestion instead? Jozy? Nagbe? Cameron? Howard? Throwing the kids out there cold and letting them learn lessons we don’t necessarily want them to have to learn the hard way?

        I’m not encouraging having Bradley around very long, but every team in this cycle transition has kept around a small amount of older players for a few months to provide an evaluation baseline (are they actually better than what we used to have, or just new), and to impart the older wisdom. if the kids outplay the old guard, they earn their spurs and they get the old guard’s mentoring.

      • You could do FAR worse than to bring in Beasley as a mentor to the newcomers. Four world cups, including the most successful U.S. appearance since 1930. Experience in MLS, the Eredivisie, Premier League, Scottish Premier League, and Liga MX. 126 caps under Arena, Bradley, and Klinsmann. Has played as a forward, mid, and now a fullback. Still in amazing shape for 35 year old. Has always been a good professional with a strong work ethic. He gets my vote.

  3. Why is a player with maybe one good appearance in the shirt, 7 years ago, with long intervals in the country wilderness, not even a regular callup for the end of the last cycle, anointed a leader/captain figure for a next generation? He wouldn’t know how to excel at NT soccer to pass it on. If you want that you need a better breed of player, a long term fixture with a history of significant success, like a Bradley, not Lichaj or Villafana.

    • I’m going to call you Total Whine because you find a reason to bitch about everything.
      Coach Siracha is old and probably soils his pants in a regular basis but with his experience and preferences he decided to pick Lichaj for that roll. Just live with it.
      Bradley? Really?

      • Rob: it’s not that complicated and you can tell from the response it’s not just a complainer’s choice. If you are mentoring new players then the mentor should be a reliable and experienced old hand. Bradley to a T. Yes, Bradley. I am not looking to use him in 4 years. I am looking for him to instill values and habits in the new players.

        Lichaj is too old to be useful in 2022 — if he’s there on his own merits — and not a reliable long term member of the pool who can mentor them about what the level requires. Because he can’t even stay on the team. Test 1 for mentor for national team knowledge is are they even around enough, and have they succeeded, such that they have anything to impart. Fail, fail.

        I think the “mentor” talk is a sales pitch to cover up the fact he’s older and an experimental choice on his own merits. He didn’t bring in many holdovers so he has to claim someone is the responsible adult around.

    • I agree – very unusual “leader” choice – i’m surprised that Sarachan would specifically name him as a leader – hopefully he has some sort of emotional leadership that he provides in the locker room, because he won’t be a leader based on pure national team experience or success.

      • Why would they look to him? He has a tenuous hold on being on the team at all, and perhaps lower present and long term value than the people he’s supposedly mentoring. They’d be more interested in winning a job at his expense than in absorbing his thoughts.

        Now, if you call in Bradley, their history gives gravitas and respect, and people want to know the secrets. Nor would players just assume “oh, I am already better than that schmuck.” This is not MLS preseason and draft picks. These are people in B.1 and such. Bradley, Pulisic, and a handful of other players could command respect where players are like, teach me to be like you.

        Lichaj? Pfft.

    • The problem with bringing in Bradley is, bringing him in truly DOES send the wrong message. You just can’t.

      Truthfully, there was entitlement and complacency a mile wide in the pool the last time around and Case Zero of it does start with Bradley. He’s kind of the poster boy for the guy who started hungry and intent, fought his way into Europe…then signed for millions with his MLS team stateside and got complacent and comfortable…and ultimately, failed when we needed him most.

      Not the guy to bring in. I would agree Beasley might be a better choice in that regard – he definitely had a lot less to do with what happened against T&T, wasn’t even on the field that night.

    • You dont know anything about Lichaj or his leadership ability/chemistry with the given group of guys. He has struggled honorably abroad for years, that’s worth as much towards to leadership credibility as anything MB has done.

      Bradley is regularly voted the most overrated player in MLS by a poll of current players. Players are not there FIFA ratings they are flesh and blood.


Leave a Comment