Holden happily back in U.S. fold

By Dylan Butler

PORTLAND, Ore. – Stuart Holden is keenly aware of the importance of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, both from a personal standpoint and from a team perspective. 

In 2009, the midfielder made his U.S. National Team debut in the Gold Cup, scoring his first goal against Grenada in Seattle and later scored a dramatic equalizer in a 2-2 draw against Haiti.

It led to Holden’s spot on the 2010 FIFA World Cup roster and to competing in the English Premier League for Bolton Wanderers.

Back in the Pacific Northwest on Sunday, Holden realizes it is important to impress national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann with the World Cup one year away. But the 27-year-old said it’s more important to win the tournament after back-to-back losses to Mexico in Gold Cup finals. 

“It is a big tournament for me in terms of getting a few more games with the national team and showing Jurgen what I can do,” Holden said before training at JELD-WEN Field.  “But in all honesty it’s more about this team and really performing and bringing the Gold Cup back to the United States.”

Holden’s return to the national team, his return to playing competitive soccer, has been long and arduous. He was at the height of his career in 2010-11, helping lead Bolton Wanderers to the FA Cup semifinals.

A horrific tackle by Manchester United’s Jonny Evans, however, resulted in a deep gash that needed 20 stitches and a torn anterior cruciate ligament that needed six months to heal.

After a brief return in Sept. 2011, it was revealed Holden had cartilage damage and was ruled out for another six months. He was finally able to come back to Bolton in January, 16 months after his last appearance and went on a loan to Sheffield Wednesday, playing in four matches 

Still, Klinsmann values Holden. It’s why he said he called him up for World Cup qualifiers and why he’s on this Gold Cup squad.

“He’s getting happier every day,” Klinsmann said.  “That was our plan.  That’s why we brought him in already in the group that played the World Cup qualifiers and we didn’t want him to go on vacation.  We wanted him to go through this summer.  Now he has the opportunity to put his stamp on this Gold Cup and we are thrilled for him.”

Holden came on as a second-half substitute in a friendly against Guatemala on Friday in San Diego and acquitted himself well, helping the United States to a comfortable Gold Cup tune-up victory.

“It’s just great to see Stuart back in rhythm, back getting more and more confident, more and more settled,” Klinsmann said.  “All he needs is games.  That performance second half against Guatemala showed you a bit that he can be very effective on the field, he can make a difference.”

Holden isn’t the only reclamation project on the Gold Cup roster.  Newly converted left back DaMarcus Beasley is wearing the captain’s armband, Oguchi Onyewu is patrolling central defense and Landon Donovan is back in an influential role in the attacking third.

“I’m going to use this opportunity to get back in the fold and to demonstrate what I’m capable of and what I was capable of doing before and hopefully bring the title of the Gold Cup back to America,” Onyewu said.

The three, along with midfielder Kyle Beckerman, were on the same 1999 U.S. Under-17 national team residency program.  Now they’re teammates again at the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

 “Once you get your shot, you have to take it by both hands and grab it,” Beasley said.  “I was in camp before, but I never started a game, I never got an opportunity to play for Jurgen.  Once I got the opportunity, I felt this is my chance and right now I’m just running with it.”