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.”