After long wait for first US goal, Eric Lichaj targets his first trophy

PHILADELPHIA — As soon as he scored his first-ever international goal, Eric Lichaj knew he had to mark the occasion.

But you’ll have to forgive him if his run and dive to the corner flag came up a little bit short. It was, after all, pretty hot in Philadelphia and Lichaj isn’t used to goal celebrations.

“I started running and I realized, ‘I’m really tired here, I’m going to fall over,’” Lichaj said after the US national team’s 2-0 win over El Salvador in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals. “Then I was just laying there until the guys came over and celebrated with me.”

His teammates certainly seemed to enjoy the moment, as they mobbed the weary US defender after his goal in stoppage time of the first half gave the Americans a comfortable two-goal lead heading into halftime.

And it came after a shaky start in which the US were back on their heels and a disastrous early Lichaj pass attempt to goalkeeper Tim Howard nearly resulted in an El Salvador goal.

“The first back pass to Tim was not very good at all,” Lichaj said. “I told him, ‘Thank you,’ at the end of the game because that was a big save from him. He got me out of the dirt there. I needed that goal, if anything, because I wasn't having the best of games.”

Both Lichaj and Bruce Arena referenced another play in which the defender was beat, but the US coach seemed pleased overall with how the defender has fared in the tournament.

“He’s an experienced player. He’s a good, solid player,” Arena said. “I think one of the things we’ve benefited from in the tournament is that we have been able to look at a lot of players and see how they fit in the big picture.”

And how might Lichaj fit in the big picture? 

The defender — who has spent his entire club career in England, first with Aston Villa and now with Nottingham Forest — admitted that obviously a spot on next year’s World Cup squad is the ultimate goal. But he quickly said that won’t happen if he doesn’t clean up the kind of defensive miscues that plagued him on Wednesday.

Besides, the most important thing for him right now is to simply enjoy the Gold Cup with his English wife and two daughters, who have been traveling the entire country to watch him play.

And at the end of it, he hopes to lift a trophy.

“I haven’t won anything in my career,” he said. “I’m 28, so I would love to win, especially with my country. That would be something I’ll remember forever.”