(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
It's been quite a month for Aston Villa's young full back; he made his Premier League debut on the 10th against Blackpool, got into the game at RW against Manchester United (which is still just bizarre) and today he got his first start and full 90 minutes of action for the United States National Team in the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup against South Africa. Not a bad birthday gift, Mr. Bradley.
Lichaj was everywhere for the Americans, his play going forward leading to two of his side's best scoring opportunities; the first came when Lichaj went to ground on a two-way challenge for a loose ball, dug it out, kept it from crossing the endline and flicked the ball to Eddie Gaven in space from his back. The second came on a perfect lofted ball into space for Teal Bunbury to turn into in the box and put the ball on frame. He was strong in defense, making several strong tackles and continued to keep his mark mostly in check in the second half despite picking up a yellow 33' in. He displayed everything that made me fall in love with his play so many months ago; strong instincts and tackling ability on the defensive side of the game coupled with the ability to become a serious threat and passing touch that one would expect only to see from all upper tiers of attack-minded defensive players.
There were some less than stellar moments as well, it must be said. On a few occasions Lichaj found himself a bit over-extended on the attack which led to trouble from South Africa's speedy wing players and in another incident he was flat-out nutmegged by his mark. He's still got some development to do. But his overall performance was probably the stand-out on the day and he's miles ahead of where most defenders are at his age. He's not going to take Luke Young's spot at Villa or Steve Cherundolo's spot on the US National Team in the immediate future, but he's a lot closer than you would have thought six months ago.
Speaking of American Villans in action today, Brad Guzan started in goal and wore the Captain's armband. He was a under siege often in the early going (surprise!) but made several stellar saves to keep the clean sheet going into the locker room. Guzan didn't have nearly as much to do after the break with the US dominating the run of play and South Africa more concerned with hanging on than going forward, but his first half performance and the few saves he did have to make in the second half cemented his performance as one of the best of his international career. Guzan is in a fairly tough spot, solidly behind the seemingly ageless Brad Friedel and at least a few years away from taking Tim Howard's spot as the United States' #1. Guzan had a few shaky appearances for Villa last season but he was largely solid and it's been quite some time since we've seen him be anything but confidence inspiring. He'll get his chance soon enough and when he does I don't think any of us should be too concerned.
This past week has done more to inspire confidence in the future of this club than any in recent memory. When you look at the core of players Villa have that should be entering their prime within the next few years it's pretty astounding; Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young, Marc Albrighton, Barry Bannan, Ciaran Clark, Eric Lichaj and Brad Guzan. Not to mention players like Stewart Downing, Stephen Warnock and Nigel Reo-Coker who aren't exactly old and should be counted on as solid contributors for a few years and players like Jonathan Hogg, Shane Lowry and Andreas Weimann who are lesser known but still very promising players. Something special is going on here.
We say it a lot, but the future is bright and it most certainly is Claret and Blue.