- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 8, 2009

With three Americans on the team, fans in the United States will be watching closely the progress of English Premier League club Aston Villa when the season begins Aug. 15.

Goalkeepers Brad Friedel and Brad Guzan and defender Eric Lichaj hope to help Villa crack the top four in the Premier League after a sixth-place finish last season.

Curtis Davies, Villa’s starting central defender, knows those players well. He played in front of both goalies last season and alongside Lichaj on the back line at the Peace Cup in Spain.

“Since he came to the Premiership, [Friedel] is one of the most consistent keepers, and he’s only improved us,” Davies said. “I don’t know how [Guzan] slipped under the radar of other teams because from what I’ve seen of him in training and in games is that he has the ability to be one of the top keepers in the Premier League.”

Guzan earned attention with his performance at the Confederations Cup in June and at the Peace Cup, where he was the hero in the shootout in the final against Juventus.

The other American suddenly making a name for himself for the Birmingham-based club is Lichaj, a 20-year-old native of Chicago. An injury to starting right back Luke Young forced coach Martin O’Neill to bring him to the Peace Cup. He ended up starting all four games, including against Juventus, where he did well against some of the best strikers in Serie A.

“He was thrown into the deep end and responded with good performances,” Davies said. “I think he’s put himself into the manager’s books and will carry it into the season.”

Lichaj, who said his dream as a child was to play for the Chicago Fire, suddenly finds himself with a possibility of breaking onto Villa’s first team.

“I think these experiences have stood him in fantastic stead because he wasn’t expecting to participate - maybe 10 or 15 minutes - but he played in all the games and did wonderfully well,” O’Neill said.

The club’s goal is to get into the top four, but Davies said that will be difficult.

“We came close last year but ran out of steam,” he added. “It’s going to be more difficult this year with the money Manchester City has been spending, and they will be the ones knocking on the door. However, last year Tottenham spent a lot of money and didn’t do it. We’ve got the team spirit, and we can make the push. With a few additions, we’ll have the squad to hopefully push one place higher or two places higher into the top four.”

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