After more than two and a half years away, Holden ready to make most of his USMNT return

Stuart Holden


CLEVELAND– As the familiar U.S. Men’s National Team faces poured onto the field at FirstEnergy Stadium on Monday, one face stood out. Not because he didn’t belong, but because it had been so long since he had been seen wearing USMNT attire and preparing to play a role with the national team.

Stuart Holden is back. No, not all the way back just yet, but Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to make Holden apart of the national team’s summer plans, including both World Cup qualifying and the Gold Cup, has helped boost Holden’s recovery from an injury ordeal that sidelined him for a year and a half.

Holden’s time away from the game didn’t deter Klinsmann from keeping close tabs on Holden and opening the door for him to spend the summer with the national team. It is a decision that has Holden excited about the summer.

“Jurgen spoke to me while I was on loan with Sheffield Wednesday,” Holden said. “He just said he would keep in touch, and said he would talk to both of my coaches and monitor me as the games went on and obviously he was happy with my progress. Happy enough to bring me in and now we’ll see what happens these next couple of weeks.

“As a competitor and a believer in myself I always thought there was a possibility that would happen but when he calls you and tells you, it just makes you want to work that much harder and really want to play for him as a coach,” said Holden of Klinsmann’s decision to call him up. “It’s really given me a confidence boost and hopefully that can now help me push over the line and be a better player.”

Holden has made considerable progress since returning from the knee injury that kept him sidelined for the past year and a half. Some playing time with Bolton, as well as a successful loan stint with Sheffield Wednesday, has helped him move closer to the level that once made him one of the more highly-regarded midfielders in the English Premier League, and one of the brighter prospects in the U.S. national team pool.

Holden pointed specifically to his stint with Sheffield Wednesday, which consisted of four starts, with helping clear a major hurdle in his recovery and impress Klinsmann enough to merit a summer call-up.

“I think it was really important because, to be honest, I don’t know if I’d be in this camp if I didn’t go out and get some good games in,” Holden said of his Sheffield Wednesday loan. “It wasn’t how the football was, it wasn’t the team I was playing for. It was just really about me getting some real good quality minutes under my belt. To keep ticking over, and to keep getting in a rhythm and I feel like all of that really helped me push myself an extra 10, 15 percent up the ladder.

“It’s just more of finding a full rhythm and feeling as confident as I did when I was playing at my peak probably last year,” Holden added. “It’s all been coming back, playing in the loan games I felt every game I got better, I got sharper. I felt like that player that I was again. Just being in this camp already has given me another boost up and made me feel that I think I’m really close to being there and I want to do everything I can in this camp to put myself in a position to contribute in whatever capacity that will be.”

Holden is with the national team for the first time since the last of his 17 USMNT appearances, a start in a draw vs. Colombia on Oct. 12th, 2010. After more than two and a half years away, Holden is back and while the general belief has been that he should play a key role in this summer’s Gold Cup, he isn’t ready to concede that he won’t play a part in the June World Cup qualifiers.

“Obviously the Gold Cup will be a good chance for me to play a lot of minutes, but I’m not coming in here to just be a training player,” Holden said. “I’m a competitor. I’m a believer in myself and whatever role that Jurgen sees me in I’m happy to fulfill that, but I want to make his decision difficult. If he wants to leave me out I want to make it the hardest way for him to do that by me training well and me showing that I can play a part in this team in qualification.

“The Gold Cup in ’09 was really kind of a breakout for me I think,” Holden said. “It was my first chance with the national team and I think I took that well. I went from strength to strength. Any chance I get in these big games, or to represent my country, I want to take that to the fullest and I think that, whether it’s now or next month with the Gold Cup, I plan on doing that. Then really setting myself up to have a good year and make sure I’m on that plan to Brazil.”

Watching Holden with the team this week, it is clear he has settled right back into the team despite his long time away. Klinsmann has called him a good team player who brings a needed element to the squad, not just on the field as a solid central midfielder, but as a good teammate.

“I think he definitely deserves to join our group, and there’s no pressure on Stuart at all,” Klinsmann said. “There’s no pressure. He can only win coming back in. He’s highly accepted within the entire group. He’s one of the guys that really built special chemistry. He’s a pure giver. He’s always looking for other people.”

Despite so much time away, Holden looks right at home with the national team. Now it will be up to him to regain the form he showed before the injury ordeal, and validate Klinsmann’s trust in him.

“It’s like the night before it kind of felt like the first day in school’s the next day,” said Holden. “Just coming back and being part of the group again, and just mixing in, and seeing all the guys. It really is a great feeling to represent your country, but also to just be part of this group. It’s been exciting and I’ve just been trying to work hard and we’ll see what happens.”

  • Old School

    I’m not a fan of Sacha Kljestan’s game and feel too many people have a “Backup QB” stigma attached to his ability. I mention this because I believe Holden’s ability in our midfield could do wonders for the rest of the team.

    If (IF…If…if) Holden can continue to progress (and stay healthy) while recapturing his ability and form, I believe this helps alleviate the dull, unimaginative and impotent attack and distribution we’ve had for far too long in our midfield.

    Holden’s ability and passing could help unlock Jozy’s stagnate attack for the Nats, too. A true win/win.

    Let’s hope Holden can give JK a reason to opt out of 3 defensive mids.


    • louis z

      If JK opt out of having 3 defensive mids in the Mexico game, I think he is going to stick with 2 from here on.


    • The Imperative Voice

      One thing I think coaches need to figure out is whether he’s a central middie or a winger. As a central middie he did not rack up Dynamo assists, and I think he’s kind of a Torres go-sideways type player there. His true talent is as a winger, and there I think we could use some wheels and crossing. But as a CM I don’t think he’s necessarily better than other players in the pool, and he accumulates injuries because the standard response to his quick one-/two-touch passing is to tackle his legs out from under him as the ball arrives.


      • Old School

        Playing centrally, pre-injury, he was one of the best midfielders in the EPL on a poor team.

        This “winger” talk I believe has to do with his ability to send in crosses. However, he adds zero pace and I don’t believe pushing him out wide plays to his strengths.

        He’s fantastic on the ball and does a great job of distributing. Often, he plays a bit deeper, rather than in an attacking/advanced position, so I don’t believe his assists ratio tell the full tale of his impact in the midfield.


      • beachbum

        it isn’t talk, he’s played out wide well even though with Bolton he was excellent inside, but before that he played outside a lot, and well


      • The Imperative Voice

        Doesn’t add anything? He had 5 G 5 A in his second Dynamo year platooning with Mullan at RM. He was so effective many of us wondered why Kinnear didn’t just make the switch.

        In fact, his highest assists year was that second season, not the third or fourth seasons when he increasingly replaced DeRo centrally. He actually had fewer assists playing in the middle. Why? IMO played centrally he’s not that incisive throughball guy, he’s a side to side possession type. In which case Bradley can hit a throughball why do I need someone else with the same skill set?

        What we do in fact need is a crosser of the ball, and there are only a handful of guys (Davis, Zusi, Agudelo, Donovan, Holden) who can strike a good cross. When healthy Holden joins Agudelo and Donovan of having the virtue of some wheels, which helps you get open and to the endline to get the cross actually off in a game.


      • Old School

        We’re not playing a 4-4-2. If we were, I’d support him playing outside. Since we’re not? He’ll be playing the role Klejstian is in tomorrow night.

        As for your “stats”…in MLS….again, stats only tell so much. I simply disagree with your assessment that he “IMO played centrally he’s not that incisive throughball guy, “.

        His manager at Bolton would disagree, too. I’ll support his opinion.


  • skyman

    I watched him play in the 09 Gold Cup in Seattle – I believe it was against Honduras. It was obvious that he was at another level. Others on the field that day, who I remember: Adu ), Kenny Cooper, Rogers, Beckerman, Goodson, Charlie Davies. . . None came close to the skill and composure of Holden.


    • bizzy

      Its not all about skill but when you put “skill” and Adu in a sentence with any other player on the USMNT roster that played……..none come close.


      • Nate Dollars

        yeah, freddy, where’s the REAL birth certificate?


      • skyman

        Even though Adu scored that day, he looked very apathetic. i know he is very skilled, but he was not able to showcase his skill during the game, other than a well placed shot.


    • APK

      No doubt, no doubt. When that boy’s healthy, he got game on another level.


    • Edwin in LA

      You are forgetting this was the pre-accident Charlie Davies…probably a monster back then…but from what I remember he was going to fly back to France and join his, at the time new club of Sochaux so he might of slacked off a bit with that Gold Cup team….


      • skyman

        At the time, I thought Davies was the gift that the soccer gods finally gifted to the US. To my dismay, he looked that the Davies that played with DC United that day. . . . he was very similar to Adu.


  • az18

    cmon Holden you can do it. I have followed his recovery pretty closely and I hope he pulls through


  • Ron

    if Holden can stay healthy I truly think Holden-Bradley is our CM pairing for WC 2014 and beyond. Holden is a better passer and calmer in possession than Jermaine Jones. Having JJ be a late game sub would also be a benefit, he would be a great player to bring in off the bench to kill off a game late on


    • Michael F. SBI Mafia Original

      I just think Holden is a long way from that happening unfortunately. But if anyone can do it after two knee operations – he can.


      • az18

        I don’t know. He helped Sheffield Wednesday fight off relegation from Englands second flight. Obviously not the PL, but they are no slouches in that league either. Sheffield wanted to keep him longer than his loan, and Bolton didn’t allow it because they wanted him back. He just has to continue to shake the rust, which he will have time to do this summer.


    • The Imperative Voice

      I’d prefer to see him wide in a 442. To play two center mids you usually still need the DM so we end up with 3 CMs and you either have to play 451 or a 433 without enough wing play. Those sort of tactics have been why we’ve had plenty of possession and not enough real chances.

      I’d say:

      You have to have a destroyer on the field in any formation, and I don’t think Holden has the durability for it. Nor do I believe in the 2 “box to box” player nonsense people like to advocate. There’s a reason for the division of labor in terms of reducing work, specialization, and getting each portion of the division done well. Tactical balance is important too.


  • James McAllister

    What an honor to play for your national team. Hopefully he does well! It’s every guys dream to play for his national team as a player – if only I could’ve done it. Only in my dreams I guess.. haha!

    Glad to see he’s recovered though, and hope he does great on his return game!


  • MLS_Soccer_Talker

    I would like to see this in one of the friendlies:

    F.Johnson Holden

    Bradley Jones

    Beasley Gonzo Besler RB


    I know Holden isnt a natural winger but hes played outwide before and I thibk hes less likely to get rash challenges on the edges.


    • wfrw07

      I would be beyond shocked if Holden started a match. I could see him getting 15 or so in the friendlies, but playing matches isn’t why he is here.


      • The Imperative Voice

        I don’t think we’ll send him into Gold Cup cold, and Klinsi might not want to risk him in the qualis themselves. But I doubt they brought him in to sit him. They may treat games as part training but he’ll be out there some. So I presume he’ll get some second half friendly time.


    • Bumby Hemmingway

      Forgive my ignorance, but when has Holden played outside in a winger role?


      • Adam

        Some with the dynamo and about half of his national team appearances he played wide on the right. He is actually pretty good on the wing.


      • beachbum

        could really serve the ball into the area too, good crosser of the ball. hope he still has that accuracy and ability, could really help


      • The Imperative Voice

        When Holden first came up with the Dynamo he was Mullan’s understudy. He quickly exceeded him but Kinnear was stubborn so he didn’t start to push into the lineup here until the tail end of year two. Since Kinnear was beHolden to Mullan he started shifting Holden inside to get him on the field. When DeRo was traded and Kinnear did not replace him, Holden became a central mid full time.

        So Bradley often used him wide as a sub during the 2010 cycle. I like him out there, he at least used to have wheels and can hit a cross.

        Bolton then left him central and now that’s how people often speak of him. But Bolton’s also in the championship these days, for what that says about the team.

        He never struck me as incredibly effective as a CM, didn’t rack up assists, more of a one-touch side to side Torres McCarty linkup type. That wouldn’t even necessarily be the worst quality to have available on a bench for keepaway clockkilling but if you’re holding out for a guy who can hit homerun passes from the middle, that’s not really him.


    • Josh D

      Holden has been great as a winger. However he wasn’t speedy before his injury. Now you’d have to guess he’s slower. Stu is a winner. He’ll go into tackles and we don’t need to protect him. I want him digging in because there’s no room on the roster for anything less. And he’ll tell you.

      I’d like to see him in a midfield three at some point. Let’s see if he can still play possession.


      • beachbum

        not speedy? well, he was never slow. hope he still isn’t

        he can play anywhere in the midfield and has and could play wingback too. everyhting depends on his ability to get back and stay healthy as it used to appear he had a 3rd lung since he never seemed to tire. And he’s a hyper responsible player

        losing him along with CD9 and Gooch was a huge blow to Bradley’s 2010 team, that fact can’t be overstated. If not for injury, he’d have been in the starting XI all the time these past years for Bradley and Klinnsman


      • The Imperative Voice

        People have weird concepts of relative speed on here. Rogers is not a burner, nor is Shea. Holden used to be on the high end of the middle speedwise, faster than those two but not sprinter speed. But if you want real speed it’s Beasley or Gatt, or you move Landon or Dempsey back.


      • ChrisTheLSUTiger

        Wait, are you really arguing that Holden is faster than Rogers and Shea? And are you also arguing that Dempsey is fast? He’s slower than molasses.


      • The Imperative Voice

        Yes, I really think Rogers is not all that fast. I used to run track in addition to soccer. There’s speed and then there’s speed.

        Shea can beat some people but I think a lot of that is finesse skills and I see his problem in terms of speed being fitness. He strikes me as a Young Dempsey dancer who dances with the ball a bunch but lacks the fitness to do it over and over for 90 minutes.

        The reason Prime Dempsey has elevated his game IMO is his fitness, because he does have middle distance speed. And I think Old Holden had that same level of middle distance fitness and speed.

        Are they Dominic Oduro? No, but not many soccer players in this country are in that neighborhood. But that’s what real speed looks like.

        IMO American soccer fans tend to underestimate the role of speed and endurance — the running part of soccer — neglecting that it is in signficant part a running game, and that somehow who can execute that part of the game faster or for more minutes may in fact be a more useful soccer player.

        I mean, you take away Landon’s speed and he does not have a hammer shot, doesn’t really cut laterally well, he wouldn’t be the same player. I like players who can run the other side into the ground and I think Holden has that (as do Gatt, Dempsey, Donovan).


      • GW

        Imperative Voice,

        RE SPEED

        Johann Cruyff once said something to the effect that “The fastest player is the one who starts running first”.

        He meant that a player, assuming he could run at all, with a “mental edge” could translate that into speed on the field. It’s noteworthy that Italians who play a very cerebral game, have guys like Maldini and Pirlo playing well into their thirties. They learn to read a game so well that their anticipation is better than most.

        The USSF website has Tom Dooley addressing this issue :

        The U.S. U-20s rose up on the defensive side when they shut out Costa Rica 1-0 to win Group A of the tournament, and much of that success can be directed toward the defense’s ability to shut down John Jairo Ruiz, whose goal ousted Haiti from the group stage and led the team into the quarterfinal stage.

        “Ruiz is one of the best players in the tournament, but you didn’t see him against us,” Dooley said. “He’s running his butt off in the midfield, but he can run 90 minutes over there. He didn’t have a chance to score and didn’t assist a chance to score. We did an excellent job of shutting him down. A soccer player who is knowledgeable about the game knows that even if you don’t touch the ball defensively, the more important thing is that your opponent doesn’t touch the ball.”

        Anticipation and Visualization

        Defensive players are regularly asked to defend some of the fastest players in the world. As a player, Dooley initially thought that you needed to match speed for speed to have success. But during his professional career in Germany, he understood that quickness actually is not the most important intangible.

        “After we won a German championship in Kaiserslautern, I wanted to get a little bit faster,” Dooley said. “I had an opportunity to play in the U.S. because they found me over there, so I told myself that I needed to get faster for the first four or five yards. My coach explained to me that some of the fastest players in the league don’t anticipate – they react when something happens. He taught me to react to something that will happen in the next two or three seconds. So that’s what I’m trying to get this team to do. I’ve played against some of the fastest players, but if you slow down the motion and anticipate where the ball will be in a space or look at a player’s body language, you know what he wants to do, you can take off and you’ll be several yards in front of him.”

        Dooley is also preaching to this U-20 MNT team that the ability to visualize situations and your opponent will put you steps ahead in a game.

        “Eighty percent of a player’s focus is generally looking at the ball and 20 percent is looking at the space,” Dooley said. “It actually should be the opposite: 80 percent should be scanning the field and 20 percent you’re looking at the ball. You need to ask yourself what you are doing next. That is something you need to develop and visualize – how you’ll tackle a player, how you react if he’s running toward the near post. We have everything on video, every single touch of every single player. If you analyze a player and know he makes two or three moves like he does on the video, he will probably do the same thing. And I guarantee you that if that happens in the game, your reaction is 10 times quicker than if you’re playing somebody you’ve never seen before.” –


  • montana matt

    Styles may come and go, but Stu’s hairdo will forever remain in So-Cal ’97.


  • NC Jeff

    “Then really setting myself up to have a good year and make sure I’m on that plan to Brazil.”

    I suspect what he really said was that he wants to make sure he is on the PLANE to Brazil. Darn spell-checker … where is it, when you REALLY need it, huh?

    Seriously, really hope to see Holden get back to 100% and get a fair chance to attempt to earn a spot back on the USMNT.


  • Andy

    I would love to see an in-form Holden paired up with Bradley as the CMs in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

    For those unaware of Holden’s prowess as a CM, during his (most full) season with Bolton, he lead the league in tackles and was one of their leaders in assists. Bolton fans acknowledge that their relegation was largely due to losing Holden due to injury. He was talked about a lot in the English press and, if he hadn’t received that leg-breaking tackle from Johny Evans, Bolton would most likely have received large offers for his services.

    A Holden/Bradley midfield pairing would both be able to handle things defensively and would include two players both capable of 1. maintaining possession and 2. passing the ball forward.


  • beachbum

    Holden is versatile so he can interchange effectively with other midfielders IF those other midfielders have that versatilty too. Inside, outside, in the hole, above the centerbacks destroying, getting forward or covering back. He can do all of those roles when in form, a complete midfielder, and he showed many of these qualities before heading to Bolton, where he finally had the stage to show them off to the world and proved to be an excellent central midfielder

    it’s great to have him back, everyone’s pulling for him


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