There's a reason US national team fans have been clamoring for Nottingham Forest right back Eric Lichaj to be part of the squad.
Not only has it been a while – Lichaj's last appearance came in the 2011 Gold Cup final against Mexico – but since moving to Forest at the start of this season, Lichaj has been on a tear, starting 13 of 15 games.
Under Billy Davies, Lichaj has been given the freedom to get up and down the wing with the right midfielder usually pinching inside. That strategy has allowed Lichaj to feature prominently in the attacking half, like he did against Kei Kamara’s Middlesbrough on September 17.
Courtesy of Opta, we can see Lichaj's passes during the match, in which he got his first assist of the season. The blue lines indicate completed passes while the red lines are the errant ones.
Eric Lichaj vs. Middlesbrough
Lichaj has averaged four crosses a game from open play so far this season for Nottingham Forest, completing 29 percent of them. That is more than any of the other USMNT fullbacks, including the likes of left backs DaMarcus Beasley and Edgar Castillo, who play their club soccer in Mexico.
The comparison can be seen in the table below, using USMNT matches for Brad Evans and Michael Parkhurst, who either don't play or don't play right back with their club teams.
|PLAYER||TEAM||ATTEMPTED CROSSES FROM OPEN PLAY/GAME|
How will Lichaj's penchant to attack translate to the USMNT in the matches against Scotland and Austria? Jurgen Klinsmann has not demanded much of his right backs in recent matches, with Beasley doing plenty of overlapping on the left. The right midfielders – Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya, or Landon Donovan – have typically served as wide right wingers in the attacking third, allowing the right back to concentrate on defensive duties.
As an example, take a look at Evans’ performance against Panama in June and Fabian Johnson’s against Mexico in September. They don't get past the halfway line as much as you'd think and they rarely got close to the opposition's penalty area.
Brad Evans vs. Panama
Fabian Johnson vs. Mexico
What does it all mean for Lichaj? It's simple: He has a great opportunity to wow Klinsmann and US fans if he can bring his overlapping abilities to the national team. If he does, it might throw the right back position in limbo once again.