BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – When he was a kid, Aston Villa defender Eric Lichaj hoped he’d suit up for the Chicago Fire some day.
The Downers Grove, Ill., native had a brief stint with his hometown team’s system, when he played four games with the Chicago Fire PDL team in 2006 before signing with Aston Villa that summer.
For the first time since those PDL days, Lichaj played a game at home on Saturday in Aston Villa’s 1-0 win over the Fire at Toyota Park.
“It felt good to play in front of my parents and my brothers who haven’t seen me play live in front of a crowd, especially in Chicago,” Lichaj said. “It was a good feeling.”
Lichaj played 57 minutes on Saturday. His fellow Chicagoan Brad Guzan, a native of Evergreen Park, Ill., played the last 21 minutes for Aston Villa.
The former Fire PDL and Chivas USA goalkeeper made the only save of the game for his team in stoppage time just before the final whistle blew.
“It’s good to be back in Chicago, to have a game like this,” Guzan said. “There’s definitely a lot of family and friends out tonight so it was a good evening for everyone.”
Just a few days after resigning with the club, Guzan was able to show his teammates around his home city.
“I think all the guys enjoyed it. I’m sure some of them got some shopping done, things like that so, they definitely enjoyed the city,” he said. “I spoke very highly of it and I am sure someone will be back to visit. They definitely enjoyed their time in Chicago.”
At a press conference the day before the game, Lichaj was asked whether he’s satisfied with the path he’s taken in his career. There was no hesitation – which is what should be expected of a player who's earned a starting role for an English Premier League side, working his way into the US national team picture in the process.
“I’m very happy with the opportunities to go overseas and play with the national team and play in front of large crowds,” Lichaj explained.
After a few seconds of silence, Fire head coach Frank Klopas responded.
“We’ll take Eric back,” the Fire coach said to laughter.
Perhaps they will, someday. Childhood dreams die hard, after all. But for now, "someday" will have to wait.