I. Eric Lichaj on His Brace Against Arsenal and New Dog "Gunner"
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.
II. JW’s Premier League Pilgrimage, The Sequel (This Time with Twice as Much Pie!)
Regular Raven Readers (Hi, mom!) will know that last holiday season a friend and I embarked on a Premier League pilgrimage to celebrate the bounty of football that is festive period, aka the Feast of Saint Arlo. You can read about last year’s trip HERE. It was always going to be difficult to top that itinerary, which included Crystal Palace vs. Chelsea, Arsenal at City, and the Merseyside Derby at Goodison. This year, the fixture Gods weren’t as generous. Before getting to the most important part of the trip, a quick recap of the games and experiences...
Chelsea 1 - 0 Southampton - Missed the game due to a delayed flight. We were scheduled to leave at 8:30 the evening prior, but didn’t take off from JFK until 2:18 a.m. By the time we touched down and cleared customs, it was past 3 p.m. UK time. The game had already kicked off and the sun was almost completely down. The sun may never set on the British Empire, but, in the winter, it is perpetually setting on Britain itself.
Bournemouth 0 - 4 Liverpool - Not the most competitive game of football I’ve ever witnessed, but watching Liverpool attack, “running like a five-line poem,” in the words of John Oliver, is a site to behold. While the Cherries’ football was more, shall we say, prosaic, the game day experience at the Vitality Stadium was worth the two-hour train ride to the South Coast. The 11,360 capacity ground offers a look at the sweeter side of Premier League football. Families abound. A custom coffee shop serves flat whites in a tent on the South End. And, even at 4 - 0 down, a group of elementary school-aged kids in Bournemouth strips chanted, “Eddie Howe’s Barmy Army,” with unabashed enthusiasm. To visit Bournemouth is to time travel back to an age in one’s life when football really is everything.
Arsenal 1 - 0 West Ham (Carabao Cup Quarterfinal… Guitar Slide) - Shortly before the game, my friend and I sat in the hotel lounge when a fellow barfly muttered, “Here comes the Arsenal.” Confused, we turned around. Low and behold, the Arsenal squad had emerged from their pre-game meeting. At our bloody hotel (which, to be honest, wasn’t anything special). I stood, mouth agape, watching players walk mere feet in front of me. I managed to recover my composure just in time to snap a picture of Olivier Giroud, while my friend, an Arsenal supporter, got a wave from Wenger himself. The game’s quality befit Thailand’s second most popular energy drink, the lone goal coming from Welbz. The plus side of each team fielding largely reserves: Crazy Joe Hart, who did his run-around-and-frantically-look-for-someone-to throw-the-ball-to-routine a mere 40 yards from me! And it was England’s No. 1 who was the target of the best bit of heckling I heard this trip. With Sead Kolasinac surging forward with the ball, barely across midfield, a gentleman behind me yelled, “Come on. Have a shot. It’s just f$#cking Joe Hart.”
While football in person is always a treat, and memories made with my friend will live forever, the real star of this trip was one-word, three letters: PIE. Getting an early start on my New Year’s resolution to up my starch intake, I tucked into four pies in four days. A steak and kidney number at Bournemouth (pictured below) that was, bar none, the best football ground pie I’ve ever eaten. A chicken and mushroom at The Pig’s Ear in Chelsea, which was delicious, but a touch highfalutin (I like my pie like I like my football, agriculture). And, at the suggestion of GFOPs via The MiB Universal Pie Guide, not one, but two from Piebury Corner: The Tony Adams, steak and ale. And The Vieira’gterian, potato, cheese, onion and garlic. Like the player after which it was named, the former is sturdy, dependable, and does a job. The latter needed some HP Sauce and a pint of Guinness to help it down.
All in all, an amazing trip, best summed up by this Pieku I wrote on the flight home.
Buttered flaky crust
Are you sure this meat is safe?
GFOPs, send us your Piekus and all pie-themed poetry (and prose) via EMAIL or via social, using the hashtag #MiBPiekus
III. Send Questions For Our Togga Fantasy Guru John Wallin
How will Virgil Van Dijk’s fantasy value change as a Liverpool player? Who is poised to go off in the second half of the season? Why don’t we get fantasy points for Marcos Alonso’s beautiful mane? It’s a critical time in MiB’s Togga Fantasy Football League. In advance of our next issue, we are collecting GFOP fantasy questions that will be answered by Togga Head of Content, John Wallin. If you have a question, send it HERE. And it is not too late to sign up for our Togga league. It is a weekly game with a patch going out every round. You can join the more than 16,000 GFOPs already playing HERE.
IV. High School-Aged GFOP Creates 2022 USA Hype Video
A Raven recently landed in the email@example.com inbox with the subject line: “USMNT 2022 hype video.” We opened the email, and to our delight, read, “I think this might be the 5th email that I’ve sent and I have screwed them all up so don’t pay attention to the others, but I know you probably deal with tons of people trying to reach you every day, but I really want to make this video that I made go viral. It’s about how the US failed to qualify for the World Cup and I think that you would really enjoy watching it.” It contained THIS VIDEO.
Because we loved his initial message and the sentiment behind the video so much, we had to email Foster Hull of Dubuque, Iowa back and get the story behind its creation.
He responded, “Well, recently my friend Aidan and I were in class and talking about Star Wars because the new movie had just been released. He then shifted the conversation to the USMNT that we both love to watch. I told him that we should make the video to the Star Wars trailer. We decided that this could be a cool idea and so I walked to his house after school. We worked on it for at least 3 hours, probably more until it was perfected. We did have to leave for soccer practice right after so we made sure we got it all edited before we left. In the end it turned out great and I’m glad that I was able to get in contact with you. Thanks for watching and paying attention to this!”
Foster, when you finish school, send a resume our way.
V. The People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame
Your amazing artifacts continue to pour into the CPOS for The People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame. This week, we produced a video, highlighting some of our favorite TPHoASHoF contributions. WATCH HERE. And please keep sending the American soccer flotsam and jetsam that is gathering dust in your finished basements and attics with a note telling us about its meaning to you to. We are sending patches to everyone who contributes. Please post to:
Embassy Row Studios
Care of Men in Blazers
325 Hudson Street 7th Floor
New York, NY 10013
GFOPs, you were everywhere this festive period. It warmed our cockles to see #PatchAtThePark submissions from so many Premier League grounds over the holiday, including Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day; a late December date between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield; some decidedly optimal New Year’s Day seats at Goodison Park for Everton vs. United; and Spurs’ home away from home, Wembley. Please keep the #PatchAtThePark submissions coming. We love to see our patch sullying stadia around the world. Our favorite this issue goes to a longtime GFOP from Cleveland, by way of Glasgow. The one and only Matthew McAllister, whose son Aiden was born this week.
Rog Writes: Mazeltov to Great GFOP @DanteFlorence and his family on the birth of a son. May this be his most-suboptimal moment in life. Health and happiness to all.