Tale of two US debuts at PPL Park

Shea, US struggle with 4-3-3; Lichaj proves active down right


Photo Credit: 
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

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CHESTER, Pa. – For the fans demanding to see younger players
introduced to the US national team, they got their wish on Tuesday against Colombia
as 21-year-old Eric Lichaj and 20-year-old Brek Shea received their first caps
with the USA. But they were very different debuts.

Shea started the match on the left wing of a 4-3-3 formation
and just like the rest of the US team, the first half proved a struggle. The FC Dallas midfielder
admitted later that it had been a while since he last played in a 4-3-3 and
that the tactical set-up forced him to play further inside than he would have
preferred. That made it easier for the Colombian defenders to close him down.

“I think there are plays in the first half where the game is
going fast for Brek, faster than most games he’s used to,” US manager Bob
Bradley said. “It takes him a little longer to figure out where he needs to go.
That’s part of the experience. Forty-five minutes is a good start.”

Despite the speed of play argument, it was a questionable
move by the US coaching to have a young player debut in a formation which he was
neither familiar with nor comfortable.

And if the tactics and the speed of play weren't difficult
enough to cope with, there was also a bout of the nerves.

“Definitely I was a bit nervous to be honest,” Shea said.
“But towards the end of the first half I started to get more comfortable and it
was good.”

It was very different for Aston Villa's Lichaj, who was brought on at halftime
for right back Jonathan Spector, while Shea made way for veteran Clint Dempsey. Bradley and Lichaj’s teammates all pointed out his physical
traits, which allowed him to stand out against Colombia on Tuesday.

“We’ve seen throughout this camp that physically he’s got
really good bursts of speed,” Bradley said, pumping his arm as a sign of
physical strength. “He’s strong and I thought competed very well tonight.”

Lichaj immediately came on and did not hesitate to attack
down the right. He also delivered what could have been the game-winning goal on
a cross which Jozy Altidore headed wide.  

“No nerves,” Lichaj said. “There were barely any people in
the crowd compared to what I’m used to. So I had no nerves, I just enjoyed it.

“That’s just how I normally play. [Bradley] told me we
needed more energy. Nothing was really happening the first half. So that’s what
I did.”

Should Lichaj be called up to the next USMNT match in South
Africa on Nov. 17, that game will fall on his 22nd birthday
in Cape Town. Judging by his play on Saturday, he has probably earned another invite.

“Eric’s a tremendous young player,” US midfielder Stuart Holden
said. “He’s got a lot of talent and a lot of upside. With all the young players
there’s a learning curve and getting that experience in those games. … I thought
he handled the pressure well.”

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Bradley's 4-3-3 experiment falls flat vs. Colombia

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