Eric Lichaj is a Great American. Can we just say that? The Downers Grove, Ill.-born Nottingham Forest defender put reigning FA Cup champions Arsenal to the sword last weekend, scoring not once, but twice in a 4 - 2 Forest third round victory. His second goal, if you somehow missed it, was a wonderstrike of Beckerman-esque proportions [WATCH IT HERE]. As if that wasn’t enough, the former Villa man continued to make headlines post-match when he convinced his wife (with some help) his performance was worthy of a puppy. Yesterday, JW caught up with NFFC’s 2016-2017 player of the season to talk about the brace, his USMNT future, and his family’s new addition.
JW: Talk us through both goals and emotional release you felt after scoring.
EL: My first goal [WATCH HERE], their defending was terrible. I just timed my run and headed it in. I don’t score much, so I don’t plan celebrations, but a massive rush of adrenaline went through me and I went for a belly slide towards the side of the pitch. To be honest, I lost a lot of energy on the celebration, so by the time the restart happened I was a bit tired, which helped me compose myself and make sure I was switched on for the remaining 65 minutes. On the second [WATCH AGAIN HERE - IT'S THAT GOOD], I knew Holding couldn’t generate enough power on his header to clear the box. I tried to anticipate where it would land. Initially, I thought my first touch off the chest wasn’t very good, because I didn’t get the ball out in front of me enough. I went for placement and it ended up in the top corner. This game is one that I’ll remember forever and show the grandkids when I’m old and wrinkled.
JW: In the post-match interview, you revealed that your partner, Kathryn, promised you could get a dog if you scored a hat trick this season. Give us a little bit of backstory behind your dog lobbying and how your wife finally caved.
EL: Even before we got married, I wanted a dog. I really started pestering her three years ago, when our daughters were one and two years old. I thought it was a good time to complete the family. She wouldn’t budge, and told me I had to score a hat trick if wanted one. At this point, I’d scored like five goals in my whole career, so she knew that was probably impossible. After this match, people heard my interview and started reaching out on social media, saying my wife should let me have a dog. So I started a little hashtag, #GetEricADog. People were sending MEMEs, GIFs, pictures for a good 24 hours until she finally buckled. We ended up with a French bulldog named Gunner, chosen for obvious reasons. Also, I just think it’s a good name for a boy. Since I got him, he’s gotten more attention than me. I just did an interview for Sky Sports and they were like, “Make sure and bring the dog.” But it’s been three days and he hasn’t pooed in the house yet, so things are going really well.
JW: You arrived at Villa in 2008 when you were still a teenager. A decade later, Forest fans absolutely adore you. Forty percent of them voted you player of the season last year. The City Ground is one of the few football stadiums in the UK where you hear, “USA, USA, USA.” But your journey wasn’t easy. You’ve also experienced the less glamorous side of English football, going out on loan to places like League Two Lincoln City and Leyton Orient along the way. What can young Americans heading abroad learn from your career?
EL: It’s not easy. My first year here I think I was 18 going on 19 and it was an eye opener. The fitness levels and the speed of the play were something I never experienced in the U.S. I had to sit out my first season with a broken foot and I was only on a two-year contract. When I went home the summer after that first year, I told myself I couldn’t waste this precious opportunity. I remember running four fours - four minutes of running, four minutes of rest - every day for seven weeks. But instead of resting for four minutes, I only rested for two minutes. I made sure that I was the fittest guy there my second season. I think when you come over here, you have to create your own luck. I look back and it makes me proud.
JW: Now to international football. You have 14 USMNT caps, spread over the course of the past seven years. You scored your first goal this summer and looked to be back in consideration for a World Cup roster spot under Bruce. You’ll be 33 when Qatar rolls around. What are your International aspirations?
EL: I don’t know what’s going to happen, to be honest. I know there’s a big movement toward the younger generation right now, and that definitely needs to happen, given there’s not another World Cup for five years. So a lot of the older guys will be phased and filtered out. I do hope I can help in the short-term, because I really love playing and putting on that U.S. shirt. I grew up watching the Chicago Fire and USMNT, so I’m a fan, too. If I’m called up and needed in any future camp, you’ll see me giving 100 percent. That’s all I know how to do, and I think that’s the American way.
Rog Writes: Eric is an amazing man. I really admire his play on the field and how he carries himself with such intelligence, warmth and class off it. May there be many more golden memories, like the win against Arsenal, still to come. Some, I hope, in a United States jersey. We wish him and Forest best of luck the rest of the Championship season.