Leeds United: Egyptian call off no curse for Lichaj INTERVIEW

Eric Lichaj is held off by Brett Pitman.
Eric Lichaj is held off by Brett Pitman.
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IT was evolution, not revolution for Eric Lichaj last week – and the Leeds United loan star was mightily relieved about that.

The American full-back, who enjoyed a seamless debut in place of the injured Paul Connolly in the Whites’ impressive 2-0 weekend victory at Ashton Gate, was snapped up by boss Simon Grayson on a month’s loan from parent club Aston Villa on Wednesday.

And the date of February 9 was not as tumultuous as it had threatened to be for him a few weeks ago.

Lichaj was part of the US national squad scheduled to fulfil a friendly clash with Egypt last Wednesday, but anxious US Soccer Federation chiefs decided to cancel the fixture in trouble-hit Cairo a few weeks ago due to the growing crisis in the Arab nation, teetering on the brink of anarchy.

So Wednesday instead proved a red-letter day for Illnois-born Lichaj in the best possible sense, the defender’s career progression taking him to Elland Road and the highly-rated 22-year-old is now hoping to stick around for the remainder of United’s 2010-11 promotion push.

Lichaj, who is hoping to be part of the US plans for a glamour home friendly with Argentina and Lionel Messi et al in New Jersey on March 26, said: “There was a game in Egypt that got cancelled and I had been called in for that.

“With all the stuff happening in Cairo it was called off and I was quite glad about that as I don’t think anyone would have wanted to go to that.

“I think the next international break is at the end of March, so hopefully I’ll be in that (squad), but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Lichaj, brought in as cover for Connolly, is busy making up for lost time with United after finding his first-team opportunities limited so far this calendar year at Villa Park, despite propelling himself onto the senior scene this term.

He has made eight appearances in the claret and blue this season – while also making his international bow for the Stars and Stripes in October – with his full Villa debut coming in a Europa League qualifying clash at Rapid Vienna in August.

His maiden start in the Premier League arrived in the derby cauldron of the Hawthorns in a vital 2-1 win against near-neighbours West Brom on December 11.

The right-back, handed a vote of faith by Gerard Houllier after being picked ahead of the experienced Habib Beye to deputise for the injured Luke Young for that Baggies’ victory, made his last Villa appearance in the 4-0 loss at Manchester City on December 28.

And since then he has fallen behind on-loan Tottenham right-back Kyle Walker and Carlos Cuellar in the pecking order.

He is confident his time will eventually come at Villa, although in terms of the here and now, he is only too pleased to head north – rebuffing rival Championship interest to pin his colours to the Whites’ mast.

Lichaj, who has a Polish passport and could also have represented Poland on the international front before plumping for his homeland, added: “There were two other teams who were interested and then Leeds came in and right away I just decided to go there. Leeds are a bigger (Championship) club than the other two who were interested.

“Right now, I’m desperate for some games and that’s why I’m here.

“It actually started off well (at Villa) in pre-season – I got my first start for Aston Villa and the US national team as well – but now I’m here I want to play some games for the rest of this season.

“The manager said he wanted me out on loan to get some games and obviously he’s brought in a few players and I just need to get some games and hopefully change his mind in the future.”

On his short-term future, Lichaj, who had loan spells at Lincoln City and Leyton Orient last season, added: “I’m open-minded. I just want to be playing and this is a great club and I’d like to stay until the end of the season, if possible.

Fixtures

“With the (Bristol) win, I don’t know where it takes us, but we may have climbed a few spots and we’re very close to the top three, so it should be a good end to the season.

“I’ve been out on loan before, but coming to Leeds is a different level and there’s more quality (in the Championship) and you could just tell in the (Bristol) game.”

The biggest compliment that could be thrown in Lichaj’s direction after Saturday’s game was that his assured display suggested he had been part of the fixtures and fittings at United all season, disguising the fact that his first Thorp Arch training session only took place on Thursday morning.

The defender, who started his youth career in the States at Chicago Magic and joined Villa in 2008, slotted into the back four with the minimum of fuss – just as boss Simon Grayson would like it – and played his part to the full in securing the Whites’ first shut-out on the road since November 27, and only their fourth clean sheet in 16 Championship away games this term.

On his debut, Lichaj, who played against United striker Mike Grella in US college football – he represented the University of North Carolina with Grella playing for Duke University from the same state – said: “We scored two and got a clean sheet and, overall, it was a good team performance.

“The guys were really good to me in the two days I got to know them in training. I saw how the team like to play and it actually wasn’t too hard going into the game, which was good.

“I felt the game went alright for me, though I guess there’s always stuff I could have done better, such as passing the ball out a couple of times in the second half.

“But obviously, there’s always things you can improve on.

“I’d lost a little bit of match fitness, but I think I’ve got it back now after that game.”

leon.wobschall@ypn.co.uk

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