[USA] His battle to regain fitness in time for the 2010 World Cup didn’t measure up to the struggles of Charlie Davies and Oguchi Onyewu, but midfielder Stuart Holden showed Saturday against Poland a bit of what he might have been able to do in South Africa given a little more time.
Holden, who recovered from a broken leg just in time to make the World Cup squad but played only four minutes, looked lively and sharp against the Poles. A botched clearance led to Poland’s first goal and his corner kick swerved perfectly for Oneywu to head home the second U.S. goal in a 2-2 tie; during the run of play while stationed at right midfield he drifted wide to hit threatening crosses and veered inside to play combinations and look for lanes to goal.
“We want to take these opportunities every time we come together to push forward and not rest on a good World Cup,” says Holden, who headed for English club Bolton last winter after playing four seasons in MLS with Houston. “Obviously, we don’t want to take two steps backwards, we want to strive to be a better team and win on a regular basis.”
He made the World Cup roster despite playing just one game for Bolton after recovering from a fractured right fibula playing for the USA against the Netherlands in early March.
“When I broke my leg I wasn’t sure I was going to make it back in time for the World Cup,” says the 25-year-old Holden, who was the victim of a Nigel de Jong foul. “I put lot of effort and energy into my rehab to make it back in time for the tournament. I knew it was going to be tight.
“I only managed to play one game before the end of the season and one friendly against the Czech Republic. I wasn’t as sharp then as I was now, seven games into a Premier League season, starting every game, feeling healthy and feeling confident.”
Manager Owen Coyle has installed the native Aberdonian in central midfield as one of Bolton’s attacking catalysts. His workrate, guile, and prowess at striking crosses and dead balls has earned praise though Bolton has won just one of its first seven league matches and is 12th in the 20-team Premier League. The club signed him to a new 3 ½-month contract two weeks ago; the deal replaced a short-term contract he’d signed last winter while on trial.
“He wants us to keep the ball on the ground,” says Holden of Coyle, who got word of Holden while at Burnley, and maintained the contact after taking over Bolton last January. “For me personally he’s asked me to bring some energy to the field and at the same time link the defense to the forwards, to get on the ball and make passes and get into the box.
“It’s a role that I’ve relished: being in the middle of the park, being on the ball a lot, and being an important player on the team. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed.”
Coach Bob Bradley used him out wide against Poland, yet Holden found opportunities to slide inside thanks to the overlapping runs of right back Steve Cherundolo, fluidity of the Jermaine Jones-Michael Bradley pairing in central midfield, and incisive activity of Clint Dempsey. Cherundolo and left back Carlos Bocanegra have returned to Europe; FC Dallas players Brek Shea and Heath Pearce have been brought in to face Colombia Tuesday, so Holden's position and his role could be vastly different. He's not fixated on himself, however.
“I’m not into making predictions, but if we play like we did the other night and eliminate those mistakes I think we can come away with a victory,” he says. “We’ve talked about those mistakes and done things to correct them and put up a better result.”
His family moved to Texas in his youth, and after growing up in Sugar Land (a few miles southwest of Houston) and playing two seasons of college ball for Clemson, he left for a trial with Sunderland, which ended abruptly in March, 2005, when an attack by a rival fan fractured his left eye socket.
Houston signed him as a discovery player prior to the 2006 season; he scored 15 goals in 88 league matches and helped the Dynamo win the 2006 and 2007 MLS Cups. During the 2009 season, his father Brian died of pancreatic cancer after fighting the disease for six years. By signing with Bolton, he’s gone back home though his mother and sister still live in Houston.
Last February, he went with his grandparents to visit his father’s grave in Hindley, where Brian Holden grew up. A few miles from Hindley is Bolton’s home field, Reebok Stadium.
“When I moved to Houston I was 10 and became pretty ingrained in American culture, but when I came back to England it felt like I hadn’t skipped a beat,” he says. “I have family here, my grandparents are 15 minutes from where I live, I’m able to see them on a regular basis. Friends and family members are able to come and watch games, I have an aunt who lives in London, so I have a lot of familiarity with that area and it’s helped make it an easy switch for me.
“I have guys like Tim [Howard] and Clint and other guys who play in England and I’m able to see, to have dinner with. It’s helped me to feel welcome. I haven’t felt homesick at all and it’s helped me to enjoy football and life in general.”
His work with charity organizations and community groups has twice earned him the U.S. Soccer Humanitarian of the Year award. Like father, like son.
“My dad was a huge role model for me,” he says. “Anyone who’s followed me knows that. Losing him was obviously tough not only for me but for my family. He raised me and helped me become what I am. He’s proud of me and obviously I want to continue that and make my family proud every time I play, and also be a role model for younger kids playing soccer in America, to show them that they can do it, too.”