It’s not every day that a U.S. international is scoring two goals in a match abroad. It’s even more rare when it’s accomplished by a defender. Add in the mix the opponent being a storied side like Arsenal, and one should consider buying a lottery ticket.
Veteran MNT defender Eric Lichaj had a different goal in mind Sunday. Following his two-goal performance in Nottingham Forest’s 4-2 upset win against Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup, he hopes it will be enough for his wife to allow him to welcome a new member of the family.
"My wife told me that if I score a hat trick any time during the year, I get a dog,” he said in his post-match television interview.
Will a brace and upset win against one of England’s biggest clubs be enough for her to make an exception?
The Downers Grove, Ill., product opened the scoring in the 20th minute via a set piece. The defender recognized some lax zonal marking ahead of Kieran Dowell’s free kick from the right corner near the box. As the attacker set up his delivery, Lichaj sneaked toward the near post where he beat goalkeeper Davis Ospina to the ball and powered home a header from three yards out.
True to form, Lichaj celebrated with a little banter pointed at his teammate.
“There’s a player on the team -- Michael Mancienne. I give him a hard time a lot because he has not scored a professional goal and he goes up on corners. Whenever we get one I ask, ‘Why is he going up if he’s never scored?’”
“The last game we played Leeds and I got pulled up on all the set pieces. I didn’t score then, but in my second game getting put up I scored. I said to him, ‘That’s what happens when I go up for set plays!’”
“To be fair, it was probably one of the easiest goals I will ever score, but we don’t need to tell him that.”
Forest’s lead was short lived as Per Mertesacker pulled Arsenal level just three minutes later, but the home side kept its resolve and just before halftime Lichaj rewarded The City Ground faithful with a stunning strike.
A cross from the right was nodded away by Arsenal defender Richard Holding and fell straight to Lichaj at the top of the area. The veteran alertly took the ball off his chest and finessed a right-footed effort into the opposite corner, leaving Ospina flat-footed in the process.
👀 Where did THAT come from, Eric Lichaj?! https://t.co/uxEr55dJGU— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) January 7, 2018
“I think it was the best I’ve ever scored,” Lichaj said. “It felt good to have the control and the technique. Usually when I hit it, it’s just all power, but this time I couldn’t generate much and thought I’d just go for the corner. It worked out, the goalkeeper had no chance and it was just before halftime, so good for us. I’ll remember that one forever!”
The excitement from such a special goal – he took a tumble after his first few steps -- and different seating arrangements for the cup tie meant Lichaj logged a little extra mileage in order to celebrate in front of the home supporters. Once he got there, it was worth it.
“I went to turnaround to go celebrate with our fans that are normally behind the goal, but I didn’t realize that whole side of the pitch were all Arsenal fans, so I had to run all the way over to the other corner to celebrate with our fans and they just started chanting, ‘USA! USA!’”
“In England you don’t hear that chant a lot, but I hear it often enough with Nottingham Forest fans. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
ON A HAT TRICK
Forest got two penalty kicks on the other side of halftime. When attacker Zach Clough was hauled down, Lichaj didn’t even bother to ask about a hat-trick attempt, instead allowing Ben Brereton to slot home and give Forest a two-goal lead in the 64th minute.
An error at the other end allowed Danny Welbeck to pull Arsenal back to within a goal in the 77th minute, bringing some tense moments at City Ground, but Forest was awarded a second penalty when Armand Traoré was fouled in the area.
With a chance to regain a two-goal lead and hoping to seal the deal on his new canine, this time Lichaj ventured forward and the made the penalty appeal to his teammates.
“I went up and talked to Kieran, the guy that scored, and asked him if I could get it. He said, ‘Yeah, that’s alright,’ and then a guy I sit next to in the dressing room, David Vaughn, came up to me. I don’t want to repeat what he said, but it was basically just that I wasn’t taking it because we needed to win the game. Then I thought if I took it I’d probably miss, so I just laughed it off and walked away.”
Though he slipped on the attempt, Dowell put home the penalty to seal the win and push Forest into the tournament’s fourth round.
While he didn’t get the hat trick, Lichaj is hoping the rare brace, upset victory against Arsenal and memory of his first international goal scored back in July, will be enough for his wife to make an exception on a new member of the family. If she does, he already has a list of five breeds he wants to pursue.
“I took a college course on the subject at University of North Carolina so I actually know a little bit about dogs. I love them. I think a dog will complete the family, so I’m definitely putting massive pressure on her this next week. I don’t think I’m going to have any better chance than this!”
The Lichaj family is now complete. A Twitter storm in the aftermath of Sunday's game was enough to convince wife Kathryn to welcome Gunner Lichaj into the family.