American midfielder Stuart Holden was a quality player in Major League Soccer. He joined the Houston Dynamo in 2006, gradually worked his way into a starting role and, by 2009 (his final year in the league), was an MLS Best XI selection.
But you couldn’t say that he ever dominated in the U.S. domestic league, and he was not a starter in either of the Dynamo’s MLS Cup victories, in 2006 and ’07.
So when did he make the leap to his current level? When did he find the form that would make him one of the most important players on a very competitive English Premier League team—a status confirmed by his spectacular game-winning goal for Bolton on Sunday?
If we had to pinpoint it, we’d say right here:
A last-gasp equalizer for the U.S., that was Holden’s second goal in the 2009 Gold Cup, and his performance in that tournament helped him make Bob Bradley’s 2010 World Cup team.
His career at Bolton was dogged by injuries out of the gate last winter, but this season he’s been mostly healthy and usually terrific, nailing down a starting spot in central midfield and scoring two goals in 15 appearances—including Sunday’s chest-trap-and-volley while running at top speed with two defenders on him.
That 88th-minute strike won the game 2-1 for 10-man Bolton, just moments after they’d given up an equalizer to Blackburn.
Elsewhere, Clint Dempsey started, played 90 minutes, and was frequently dangerous (but ultimately goalless) in Fulham’s 0-0 draw with Sunderland. It was Fulham’s 10th tie in 17 games, and they are only clear of the relegation zone via goal difference, tied on points with Wigan at 16.
Eddie Johnson played the last 18 minutes for the Cottagers, and there are reports that Fulham is bidding to bring a third Yank on board, one Landon Donovan.
We shall see.
Donovan’s former loan team, Everton, also played to a scoreless draw, against Wigan, with U.S. keeper Tim Howard making two saves to pick up the shutout.
At Villa Park, American keeper Brad Friedel started and went the distance in the home team’s big 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion.
Friedel’s American understudy, Brad Guzan, did not leave the bench, but U.S. defender Eric Lichaj got the start for Villa—his first in the Premier League—and played 90 minutes.
Marcus Hahnemann continued in his new role as the No. 2 keeper at Wolverhampton, sitting out his team’s crucial 1-0 win over Birmingham on Sunday.
Jonathan Spector got his third consecutive start in midfield for West Ham, going the distance in a 3-1 loss to Manchester City that left the Hammers alone in last place, three points behind Wolves.
The Sky Blues finished the weekend tied for second place with Arsenal, which lost 1-0 yesterday to top-of-the table Manchester United.
Chelsea sits fourth after a 1-1 draw with fifth-place Tottenham on Sunday, a game in which Didier Drogba both scored on a hammering shot that simply overpowered Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes (it was right at him)—and had a potentially game-winning penalty saved by that same Gomes.
In sixth place, just one point behind Spurs, are Holden and Bolton.
At St. James’s Park, Newcastle stunned Liverpool 3-1, while at the Britannia Stadium, visiting Blackpool pipped Stoke City 1-0.
Blackpool manager Ian Holloway gets a belated entry into the quote-of-the-year race with this gem after the Tangerines’ game with Man Utd was snowed out on Dec 4:
“One mate was coming over from America and it was going to be his first game of football, or soccer as they call it. Unfortunately we had to take him to Wigan instead.”
Roberto Martinez cannot have been pleased.