PHILADELPHIA – It wasn’t the start Eric Lichaj expected. In fact, it was almost a nightmare.
But after being bailed out by Tim Howard on a weak back pass, the Nottingham Forest defender redeemed himself in a big way with his first international goal in first-half stoppage time to help lift the United States to a 2-0 win over El Salvador in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday.
“The first 45 [minutes] was really bad,” Lichaj said. “I just tried to keep it simple, the first pass back to Tim was not good at all, but I told him thank you at the end of the game because that was a big save from him and he got me out of the dirt. I needed that goal, if anything, because I wasn’t having the best of games.”
Omar Gonzalez gave the Americans a 1-0 lead in the 41st minute and Lichaj ended the first half on a huge positive with his first international goal.
Jozy Altidore, who was Lichaj’s teammate in the U.S. Soccer Under-17 Residency Program from 2004-06, was proud of the fullback’s ability to bounce back.
“I’m pleased for him because I’ve known him for a really long time. I’m happy for him. He rebounded really well,” said Altidore. “He knows how to be a pro. You have to forget plays and move on and he did that.”
That mistake notwithstanding, United States head coach Bruce Arena has been impressed with Lichaj and thinks he could be a strong backup for DeAndre Yedlin at fullback when World Cup qualifiers roll around again in September.
“He’s a good defender, no question about it,” Arena commented. “Still needs a little more experience at this level, but he fits in well with the team. That’s a position we need help.”
For Lichaj, this is his first Gold Cup experience since 2011, when the U.S. lost to Mexico in the final.
“I haven’t won anything in my career,” finished Lichaj. “I’m 28 and I would love to win, especially with my country. That would be something I’d remember forever.”