Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
CLEVELAND – There were not many positives for the U.S. Men’s National Team to take away from their 4-2 defeat to Belgium, but there is no denying that what transpired in the 81st minute was something truly special.
As the U.S. trimmed the deficit at FirstEnergy Stadium to two goals thanks to a Clint Dempsey penalty kick, Stuart Holden slipped onto the field to replace Sacha Kljestan in the American midfield. Holden’s late cameo marked his first appearance at the international level since playing in a friendly against Colombia on Oct. 12, 2010 and put an exclamation point on what has been a long rehabilitation process on a problematic knee injury that he initially suffered a little more than two years ago.
“I was itching since the 50th minute and when (head coach Jurgen Klinsmann) looked my way and gave me the call, it was a great feeling for me. Personally, it kind of gave me goosebumps standing there,” said Holden. “As soon as you cross the white line, it’s business again, but looking back and reflecting on that moment when I stepped back on the field and took the warm-up off and put the jersey on was a special one.”
What may have been equally as memorable for the 27-year-old Holden as completing his comeback to the national team fold were the uplifting words Klinsmann gave him prior to sending him onto the field. Klinsmann once again applauded Holden’s attitude during his lengthy injury saga and that instilled plenty of confidence in the veteran as he walked over to the fourth official at midfield to check into the game.
“He just said, ‘Congratulations and you’ve worked hard for this, so go out and enjoy it,'” Holden told SBI. “That’s kind of the mindset I’d had going forward, so to hear that from him and all the encouragement that I’ve had from in terms of him reinforcing me and keeping me positive, it really makes me want to go out there not only for myself but to perform for him as a coach and reward that belief that he has in me as a player.”
In his nine minutes on the field, Holden got some touches on the ball and delivered several short passes from his central midfield spot. It was a solid but unspectacular first game back, one that can be used as a building block going forward.
That still did not make it any less special for Holden. He was all smiles after the match and acknowledged that he cherished the moment he was subbed in, something his teammates admitted as well.
“It’s nice to have Stuart back because he’s a guy who works super hard, he’s a guy who’s determined to fight back from all these injuries that he’s had and all these rough patches, so everyone’s happy (for him)” said Kljestan. “Jurgen said it before and everyone said it, he’s a great guy in the group and he’s a guy that gets along with everybody and makes people laugh and you need guys like that on your team. You want to have Stuart on your team, so we were happy to have him back tonight.”