For many U.S. Men’s National Team players, this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup camp offers quite an opportunity. For some it’s their first time in a U.S. MNT camp, and for the more established players a chance to further cement a place in future rosters.
In defender Eric Lichaj’s case, it’s the occasion to re-establish a spot in the senior team fold after only scant international appearances the past few years.
The 28-year-old right back earned his first cap under Bob Bradley in 2010 and had an extended run on the left side of defense in the following year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. But save for two substitute friendly appearances against Austria and Scotland in November 2013, Lichaj was mostly out of the senior team picture until last May’s friendly match ahead of Copa America Centenario, though he wasn’t part of the roster at the tournament.
With little international attention, Lichaj has stayed fully focused on his club performances with English side Nottingham Forest, where he’s been a constant in the lineup at City Ground since 2013.
“I always knew I was maybe in the picture a little bit,” Lichaj told reporters after training on Monday. “I’ve tried to always keep myself fit and consistent with my club which I have done, and the last [three] seasons I’ve played over 40 games each year and I was voted by club Player of the Year. For all the hard work the past couple years, I’m back in camp and hopefully I’ll get to prove myself and do well over the next couple games.”
Lichaj played a vital role in helping Forest in the English League Championship this past year and was even slated to be involved in the MNT’s March World Cup Qualifying camp until a groin injury flared up just weeks before the side gathered in San Jose. Though not involved, he’s kept close tabs on the National Team and its turnaround in World Cup Qualifying since last November.
“Watching from afar, they were getting the job done basically,” he said. “They needed to get some points in qualifying, they’ve done that. We’re in a better position now and things look very positive.”
And with attention turned towards this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, Lichaj has a full bit of health as well as loads more experience than he had during his last regional championship outing six years ago. And though he’s trying not to look too far down the road, an extended look during this summer’s tournament leaves him with the goal of being a part of a U.S. side that takes the field at the World Cup in Russia next summer.
“I’m going to go my hardest and [this camp] is an opportunity for everybody that’s in this squad to stake their claim for a World Cup spot in a year’s time. I’m working towards that goal. That’s my ultimate goal, and I’m trying to show myself this camp.”Read more
Cincinnati, Ohio is the capital of American Soccer. Let it sink in. Say it out loud and let it roll around your mind. For the moment at least, all eyes are on this city where the Licking and Ohio rivers meet, known more for a devotion to bats, mitts, and the oval kind of football. “There’s a perfect storm going on here,” midfielder Andrew Wiedeman told ussoccer.com about his second-tier FC Cincinnati, on a run to the Round of 16 of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup that is drawing huge crowds to a downtown dead as doornails not long ago.
READ MORE: Meet LA Galaxy’s Villarreal Brothers
READ MORE: Chicago Fire’s Solignac & his Wonder-goal
READ MORE: Long, Winding Road for SKC’s GK Tim Melia
“It was the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in in my career,” said Wiedeman, the San Francisco Bay Area native who admitted to getting goosebumps “literally, for the first time” when he marched onto the turf at Nippert Stadium on June 14 for a famous 1-0 win over nearby MLS outfit Columbus Crew SC. There were 30,160 fans in the stands – a record crowd for a non-Final in the Open Cup. And they weren’t just there. They were loud, easily drowning out Crew fans who’d made the 100-mile trip south. “And I say that having played in all the big MLS stadiums. Nothing comes close to that day. The Bailey was just crazy!”
What’s the Bailey, you ask? It’s a section at the north end of the Stadium, built in 1915 for American football and part of the University of Cincinnati campus. It’s where 1,700 of FC Cincinnati’s hardest-core supporters stand and shout, ignite buckets of blue smoke, unfurl elaborate tifos, bang drums and generally intimidate the hell out of visiting teams. “I wouldn’t want to be an opposing goalkeeper and have the Bailey bouncing up over my head,” added Wiedeman, a whip-smart pro since 2010 with four seasons in MLS to his name. Believe him when he says there’s something special going on in the Queen City.
The Bailey Effect
“I think the word Bailey comes from the old days and means some kind of castle wall,” said Ryan Lammi, a member of Die Innenstadt – one of a clutch of supporters groups that sprang to life and grew up with the new United Soccer League (USL) team since its founding just 21 months ago. “It’s a little tough to pronounce, and even tougher to spell,” 27 year-old Lammi laughed, taking time out from his job as a civil engineer to chat about the young club he’s come to love. Innenstadt means inner city in German and is a nod to the city’s sizable German roots. “When we get to banging on the banners up there in the Bailey it makes a ton of noise and can be pretty intimidating.”
Die Innenstadt isn’t the only supporters group to rise up around FC Cincinnati, now in its second season, but they’re crucial in the march that happens every matchday. About a mile from Nippert Stadium is a bar called Mecklenburg’s Garden, where Die Innenstadt’s die-hards hoist a few barley pops and make a few toasts to good health and cheer in the beer garden. When sufficiently lubricated, they begin to walk up Vine St. to Corry Boulevard. They pick up other crews along the way, all with their own names and their own home bar. By the time they get to the stadium and march up to the Bailey, they’re warmed up – singing and drumming and making the cocky noises of seasoned soccer fans.
Supporters on the March
“We just go outside our bar and wait for the crowd to come up the road,” said Payne Rankin, a Cincinnati native late to his love affair with soccer but an evangelist now – converting members of his family who hated the game because it wasn’t gridiron or baseball and was too different to care about. “Before the Columbus Crew game, I looked back at the march and it was huge – 2000 people maybe. We kept picking ‘em up and it grew and grew.”
The Crew fans, a creditable band of 1000 easy, never had a chance. They were drowned out early and completely. Come to think of it, the Crew never had a chance on the pitch either. Even with Federico Higuain, Wil Trapp, Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay in the starting XI – damn near a full-strength side – they couldn’t counter the power of the Bailey, FC Cincinnati and this particular moment in time and space. The Crew dictated the play in the first-ever Ohio Derby, but FCC held firm and the Bailey blow the ball away from the danger zones.
“We’re up there perched like weird birds – It’s ominous and there’s smoke and flags and we’re just being annoying and looking down,” said 25-year-old Payne. His supporters group is called The Pride, and he’s found himself in the grip of an extraordinary sporting moment. “It’s impossible at the time to know how loud you’re being because you’re just one of many, but when we scored I’m telling you there were pretty stoic men crying in the stands.”
The only goal of the game came right under the Bailey at Nippert’s north end. It was just after the hour-mark of a game FC Cincinnati spent sitting back and bunkered in. “They definitely won the possession battle,” chuckled Wiedeman, who claims if ever an MLS bid were to come to the Queen City it would be “the second coming of Portland.”
The Crew took 19 shots to FCC’s five on the day. But the scorer was only ever going to be one man: Djiby Fall. He’s from faraway Senegal but he calls Cincinnati home now. A pro for well over a decade, he’s played in Denmark, Russia, Norway, UAE and Belgium. He’s the best header of a ball that Wiedeman’s ever seen. But at 32 and winding down, he’s just a gun for hire – a goal-slinger for money, right? Not quite. “I was emotional,” said Fall who’s scored three goals so far in the Open Cup and all of them match-winners. “When I saw our fans up there and the support they were giving us, how they reacted to my goal, I became very emotional.”
Fall Tears Fell Too
Fall fell to his knees and shed tears. He shed them just like the Bailey’s stoic men – some of whom didn’t give a damn for soccer a few years ago but are right in the thick of it now. “You saw it when he scored,” said Rankin, who says he’ll never forget that night. “Fall started celebrating like it was just another goal, and then it hit him: he fell to his knees and got emotional because he knew what it meant to all of us up there. He went from happy to just collapsing – all because of this crazy, beautiful, awesome, frustrating game.”
And that’s not it. It would be enough for a lifetime if it was, but there’s more to the story. These fans in this city, who’ve made something special where there was nothing but empty seats and potential before, get to do it all over again. The gods have blessed them with another home game in the Round of 16, and it’s well on its way to a sell-out when Chicago Fire and their stars come marching into town. Broadcasters, with their eagle eye for numbers and trends, have taken notice too. ESPN2 will air the game in a national broadcast - rare for the Open Cup before the Semifinal Round.
“We’ve got nothing to lose when the Fire come, just like we had nothing to lose when Columbus came,” said Wiedeman. “The pressure’s on them and they’ll have a lot to answer for to their fans if they slip up. If we do, our fans will be proud of us.” Rankin, one of those fans caught up in this singular moment in a quiet corner of the American Midwest, is ready to do his part – one loud, proud voice in a crowd: “All we can do as supporters is be as loud as we can and hope that makes a difference.”Read more
Wednesday, June 28
Sky Blue FC vs. Orlando Pride – 7 p.m. ET (go90.com)
Both teams come into the game after tough losses on Saturday. Kelley O’Hara, who missed the 2-1 defeat in Chicago, returns home with Sky Blue FC to host Ali Krieger and the Orlando Pride, which lost 2-0 at home to Houston.
Sky Blue is unbeaten in three all-time meetings against Orlando (2W-1D). Sky Blue beat the Pride 2-1 earlier this season in New Jersey. Orlando won just its second road game in franchise history on June 17 against Houston. The win snapped a 12-game road winless streak for the Pride (9L-3D).
Houston Dash vs. Boston Breakers – 9 p.m. ET (go90.com)
Houston is coming off a big win on the road against Orlando, which included this rocket goal from Carli Lloyd. Now Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Jane Campbell and the Dash return home to host the Boston Breakers, who are hoping to end their four-game losing streak.
Houston is on a three-game winning streak against Boston and the Dash have outscored the Breakers 8-2 over those matches. Boston has won just one of its last 27 road games (23L-3D). The Breakers have yet to win away from home this season, one of just two teams that has not picked up a win on the road.
Portland Thorns vs. FC Kansas City – 10 p.m. ET (go90.com)
Back in Portland, the Thorns will look to get back on track after back-to-back losses the previous weekends. Allie Long, Lindsey Horan and Meghan Klingenberg host Becky Sauebrunn and Sydney Leroux at Providence Park as two teams in the middle of the league standings look to climb up the table in the second half of the season.
FC Kansas City is unbeaten in the last six meetings against Portland (3W-3D), including a 0-0 draw in Kansas City earlier this season. Portland’s eight-game home unbeaten streak came to an end in its last home game, a 3-1 defeat to Sky Blue on June 17.
Seattle Reign vs. Chicago Red Stars – 10 p.m. ET (go90.com)
The Red Stars are heading to the West Coast for a showdown against Megan Rapinoe and the Seattle Reign. The Red Stars, featuring Christen Press, Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher and Casey Short, haven’t lost a game since April 29, and continue its hold on second place in the league standings with 20 points, four behind league leader NC Courage.
Chicago is on a seven-game unbeaten streak against Seattle (4W-3D). The Red Stars have shutout the Reign three times over this stretch. The Reign are unbeaten in their last 11 home matches (7W-4D), scoring an average of 2.5 goals and conceding 0.9 goals per match over that span.
Watch NWSL on go90.com
To watch live in the USA on a mobile device or tablet, download the go90 app (free) via the App Store or Google Play. Users with go90 version 3.0 and later can cast live games from the go90 app to Airplay and Chromecast. No registration or authentication is required. Fans can also watch matches on their laptops via go90.com, nwslsoccer.com or on the NWSL app.
Internationally all games are available on the NWSL app and the NWSL website.
The complete 2017 NWSL schedule is here. For more in-depth information and the latest news and updates about the NWSL schedule, matchups, records, etc., visit: www.nwslsoccer.com and follow them on Twitter @NWSL.
- READ MORE: #USOC2017 Round of 16 General Preview
- READ MORE: Five Things to Know About #USOC2017 Round of 16
- READ MORE: Cincinnati, Ohio: Soccer City USA
- READ MORE: Meet LA Galaxy’s Villarreal Brothers
- READ MORE: Chicago Fire’s Solignac & his Wonder-goal
- READ MORE: Long, Winding Road for SKC’s GK Tim Melia
- READ MORE: D.C.'s Lloyd Sam: Enemy of Soccer
“It was my first Open Cup match, and it was such an incredible feeling to score a hat-trick,” said the 26-year-old Pinho, who’s still perfecting his English since moving Stateside in 2013. Nesta had called that game, at the brand-new Orlando City Stadium, the most important in Miami FC’s short history. And Pinho was simply too much to handle on the day. He stalked the penalty area like a predator in the wild and poked holes in the opposition defense by dragging seasoned pros out of position like rookies.
Cut Above, Step Ahead
You’d lose track trying to count the number of times Pinho gave former U.S. National Team standout Jonathan Spector the slip, leaving the defender looking to the heavens for answers while the men from Miami celebrated yet another goal. “We trained really hard for that game and put a lot of focus into it and people are beginning to take notice of Miami FC now,” said Pinho who’s got seven goals in all competitions so far this year.
The striker has taken the city of Miami to his heart, but Brazil will always be home. “It reminds me a lot of Brazil here, the beaches and the weather are similar,” said Pinho who spent a good few years on loan from Fluminense, including a memorable one in Finland with provincial side MyPa. “But no matter what, Brazil will always be home to me even with the problems there.”
Even against an MLS team, there’s something special about the movement and touch that Pinho shows. And it all seems effortless. He’s a cut-above the second-tier opposition he faces week in and week out in the NASL. When he darts into space, he catches defenders off balance and leaves them scrambling to recover.
Pinho began his career as a midfielder, a No. 10 with a keen passing eye at Fluminense. He’s always a step or two ahead of the play because of what he learned early. “I was there for almost nine years,” he says wistfully of the Flu youth set-up in Rio de Janeiro where he absorbed the Brazilian way of play. “I was trained by the best coaches in a place with so much history in the game,” added Pinho who lined up alongside one-time Barcelona midfielder Deco and Brazilian international Fred in those days. “Almost everything I know about this game I learned there at Flu.”
Even with the experience of playing and learning alongside some big names, Pinho couldn’t help but be a little nervous upon learning Nesta would be his coach in Miami. “At first I felt a little anxious around him, because of who he is in the game and such a huge name,” Pinho admitted. “But you have to get used to these things and I did. It’s true that the knowledge and experience he brings to our team is unlike any other.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Pinho when he arrived in the States in 2013. He suffered early on and struggled coming to grips with the physicality of the game in the U.S. He caught the attention of scouts at Colorado Rapids but the club balked when it came time to sign him. “Back then it was a little hard,” he admitted. “There was a lot of strength and speed training and I was not use to these things coming from Brazil, where you do more with the ball.”
Pinho’s Breakout Season
But in 2015, Pinho took the NASL by the scruff of the neck. And he’s not looked back since. He led the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to the league’s semifinal playoff round. “I was a little more mature at the time and I’d say it was my best year of my career so far.” That’s a bit of an understatement as Pinho, surrounded by familiar faces in fellow Brazilians Marlon Freitas and PC, led the Strikers with 16 goals in 23 games and was crowned the league’s best-player without much controversy of competition. “It may have been my best year, but I want to do even better this year in Miami.”
Pinho’s form that year was enough to attract the attentions of a handful of MLS coaches and he spent last season with Minnesota United, where he scored five times in 25 appearances. But Miami is his home away from home now. He’s comfortable in South Florida. And when he speaks of his new club, it might not be with exactly the same enthusiasm as Fluminense, but it’s close. “We are a family here,” he said a few days before a Round of 16 contest in the Open Cup. “That’s the feeling I have here. Every move, every pass, everything is one cohesive movement between all of us, and that is our greatest strength.”
It’s clear that Pinho likes the vibe and flow of Miami and the feeling is mutual. The side is seven points clear at the top of the NASL standings and haven’t lost in 13 games. Next up is another Major League Soccer side in Atlanta United FC on Wednesday. “I think we can go a long way in the Cup because our team has something special this year,” he said, before changing gears the same way he did to leave markers in his dust in Orlando. “Our focus is only on Atlanta. They are the team in front of us.”Read more
CHICAGO (June 27, 2017) – The U.S. Men’s National Team autographed, game-issued and pride-inspired rainbow numbered jerseys from the June match vs. Venezuela are now available via an online auction with all proceeds going to benefit the You Can Play Project.
In recognition of LGBTQ month in June, U.S. Soccer, along with the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association and the Women's National Team Players Association partnered with the You Can Play Project, an organization dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, coaches, and fans without regard for sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
The online charity auction launched today, Tuesday, June 27 and will last eight days, concluding on Wednesday, July 5. The bidding will start at $300 for each jersey.
The U.S. players wore the pride inspired jerseys during the U.S. MNT game vs. Venezuela on June 3 in a friendly played at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
The U.S. WNT jersey auction will take place soon. The U.S. Women wore the rainbow-numbered jerseys in its two June friendly matches, first vs. Sweden on June 8, in Gothenburg, and again vs. Norway on June 11 in Sandefjord.
In addition, fans can purchase customized jerseys with the rainbow numbers through ussoccerstore.com, and a special “One Nation. One Team.” hat with rainbow lettering is also on sale.
Proceeds from all three opportunities will be donated to the You Can Play Project.
As a long-time supporter of the LGBTQ community, U.S. Soccer promoted the hashtag #OneNation in support of the victims of the Pulse Night Club shooting in June of 2016. U.S. MNT captain Michael Bradley wore a special rainbow armband with the One Nation inscription, and auctioned off the armband and his jersey.
Panini America is the official trading card partner of U.S. Soccer. Through Panini Authentic, the company’s memorabilia division, these match-issued and autographed U.S. Soccer jerseys have been authenticated, hologrammed and packaged for this special auction.