Stuart Holden Is Back—“For Good this Time,” He Says

StuBoat!

Stuart Holden, the Sisyphus of U.S. Soccer, has rolled the boulder to the top of the mountain yet again.

The 27-year-old midfielder returned to action yesterday, playing for Bolton’s first team for the first time since March 2011, when he suffered a gruesome knee injury after sliding into a challenge with Manchester United defender Jonny Evans.

Holden came on for the final 16 minutes of Bolton’s 2-0 win over Premier League side Sunderland in a third-round FA Cup replay. The victory put Bolton in the FA Cup fourth round for the fourth consecutive season, but for Wanderers manager Dougie Freedman, the sweetest part of the evening was seeing Holden take the field in the 74th minute. Here he is talking to BBC Radio Manchester:

“He’s a battler and a winner. When he came on the field, I was so delighted. He’s got a long way to go, but he knows that this club are fully behind him.”

Having a long way to go is nothing new for Holden, who’s battled a series of injuries so ill-timed and so frustrating they’d have put a lesser player in a rubber room.

In March 2005, having recently signed with Sunderland out of Clemson University, Holden was attacked on the street by a Newcastle fan for the offense of being a Sunderland player in public. The sucker punch left him with a fractured eye socket and sidelined him for two months. When he returned to training, he promptly injured his ankle, missed the rest of the season, and left England, his Sunderland foray over after just six months.

Following an increasingly successful stint with the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer, Holden returned to the Premier League in January 2010, signing with Bolton after a monthlong trial. He quickly won a starting spot on the team and started producing breakout performances.

He was called into the U.S. national team for a March 2010 friendly against the Netherlands, with an eye toward cracking the U.S. starting lineup for South Africa 2010. But a reckless challenge from Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong in that game broke Holden’s leg and put him on the shelf for for six weeks. He worked his way back, and was named to the U.S. World Cup side, but without enough recovery time under his belt, he saw minimal playing time at the tournament.

No matter: Holden finished 2010 strong for Bolton, and was rated the best midfielder—scratch that, best player—of the first half of the Premier League season by Guardian readers.

The second half of the season was sailing along just as well, with Bolton in seventh place in the league (and in the FA Cup semifinals), when Holden collided with Evans, whose spikes left a gash in Holden’s knee that required 26 stitches to close. The blow also tore his anterior cruciate ligament and put Holden out of action for six months. Without him, Bolton finished the 2010-11 season in 14th place. He missed the final two months of the season, but Holden was still named Bolton’s Player of the Year.

He returned to action in September 2011, but after playing 90 minutes against Aston Villa in the League Cup (and being named Man of the Match), he was ordered to undergo an arthroscopic follow-up procedure that would sideline him for six weeks. When that procedure revealed cartilage damage, the club announced that Holden would need further surgery and would have to miss six more months. Bolton, meanwhile, was relegated following the 2011-12 season—their first time below the top flight in 11 years.

So yesterday’s appearance—his first in 16 months—was a big deal, for Holden, for Bolton, and for the U.S. national team, which begins the final round of qualifying for Brazil 2014 next month.

All of the above are hoping that Holden’s tweet this morning—that he’s “back for good this time”—holds true.

 

 

 

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MLS Exports Ruled the World this Week

With his fairytale goal against Leeds yesterday, Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry capped a tremendous week for Major League Soccer products playing abroad.

Over the weekend, former New England Revolution star and 2004 MLS Rookie of the Year Clint Dempsey scored a hat-trick against Charlton in the FA Cup, and current LA Galaxy attacker Landon Donovan set up a goal and hit the post with a 25-yard rocket during Everton’s 2-0 win over Tamworth in the FA Cup.

There were other players with MLS ties who stood out this week, but before we get to those, here are the highlights, via The FA Cup, of Henry’s triumphant return to Arsenal, the club where he forged his legend—and where they’ve erected a statue in his likeness. He entered the third-round match in the 67th minute with the score 0-0:

On first viewing, Henry appears to be offside, but subsequent replays clearly showed that the defender on the far side, at the top of the screen, kept him onside. Here’s a screen grab for proof:

Definitely onside, and definitely an indelible moment in global soccer, year 2012.

Former Revolution man Dempsey created his own career landmark against Charlton on Saturday, bagging his first hat-trick to power Fulham to a 4-0 win. Highlights below, also courtesy of The FA Cup. Note Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz, who is involved in three of the four goals:

After the game, Fulham coach Martin Jol , speaking to The Sun, had this to say about the kid from Nacogdoches: “He is an American boy so he wants to win every training session. He has the eye of the tiger.”

The MLS-export heroics were not limited to Henry, Donovan, and Dempsey.

Five days earlier, former New York goalkeeper Tim Howard made history by becoming just the fourth goalkeeper (and second Yank, after Brad Friedel) to score in the Premier League when his clearance from the top of his own area got caught in the wind and bounced high over the head of Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan.

In Italy, former MetroStars midfielder Michael Bradley earned raves for his play with Serie A side Chievo. He has nailed down a starting spot, and the team is on track for a solid mid-table finish this season. Bradley has also already mastered enough Italian to conduct his press interviews in the local tongue.

Yanks-in-England Quiz Answers and Weekend Preview

Multiple emails flew into the BP headquarters during the past two days as readers hazarded their best guesses at Wednesday’s Yanks-in-England Quiz.

Today, we’re pleased to announce our winner, Chicago-based reader Abes Army. He nailed six of the 10 questions, and wins a copy of Brilliant OrangeDavid Winner’s entertaining portrait of Dutch soccer and how it got that way—for his efforts. Strong work, Abes Army.

Here are the questions again, followed by the correct answers:

1.     How many Americans have played in the Premier League this season? (Ninety-nine point-nine-percent sure it’s a record, too.)

ANSWER: 10. Friedel, Howard, Hahnemann, Lichaj, Spector Holden, Jones, Dempsey, Bradley, Johnson. (Guzan is on the books at Aston Villa but made no Prem appearances this season before going on loan to Hull.)

2.     How many Americans have played in the Premier League since it began in 1992?

ANSWER: 33. See complete list here.

3.     Which American has the most Premier League appearances?

ANSWER: Brad Friedel, 389 and counting.

4.     Which Yank has the most Premier League goals?

ANSWER: Brian McBride, 36 (Premier League competition only. Clint Dempsey is second with 30, and counting.]

5.     I’ve played for four Premier League teams, more than any other Yank. Who am I?

ANSWER: Kasey Keller (Leicester, Tottenham, Southampton, Fulham)

6.     I had a brief stint at Coventry. It did not go well. Who am I?

ANSWER: Cobi Jones

7.     I’m probably the most obscure player on the list. I made one appearance for Bolton, as an 85th-minute sub, in 2006. Later made 14 appearances for Toronto FC. Still only 23, but currently unattached, I am….?

ANSWER: Johann Smith. He was signed to the Bolton academy as a Connecticut high-schooler.

8.     Which outfield American player has the most Premier League appearances?

ANSWER: McBride, 148

9.     Who has more Premier League appearances, Landon Donvoan or Benny Feilhaber?

ANSWER: Trick question—they each have 10.

10. I am about to overtake Eddie Lewis (25 appearances for Fulham and Derby County) for 18 th place on the appearances list for Americans in the Prem. Who am I?

ANSWER: Stuart Holden.

*Bonus trivia: McBride and Dempsey are currently co-holders of the record for the most goals scored by an American (nine) in a Premier League season. Deuce has 11 games left to break the record. (And yes, that means his missed penalty against Chelsea would have given him the record.)

Some of the guys involved in our quiz will be in action this weekend, when the FA Cup returns to the fore in England.

On Saturday, American netminder Tim Howard and Everton travel to Stamford Bridge for a fourth-round meeting with Chelsea (Fox Soccer Channel, 7:30 a.m. EST).

The following day, U.S. national teamers Stuart Holden and Clint Dempsey could square off as Bolton visits Fulham in a fifth-round FA Cup tilt (Fox Soccer Plus, 11:00 a.m. [delay]).

On President’s Day, U.S. defender-turned-West Ham midfielder Jonathan Spector should be involved as the Hammers host second-tier Burnley in the fifth-round of the FA Cup.

Yanks In England: Weekend Preview

There are six Premier League games this weekend, followed by five more spread over Tuesday and Wednesday of next week as the season barrels down the homestretch.

The FA Cup semifinals also kick off this weekend—one Saturday, one Sunday.

Your Yanks with the Most Pressing Concerns of the Weekend are Hull City striker Jozy Altidore, West Ham defender Jonathan Spector, and Aston Villa keeper Brad Friedel (with comrade-in-Bradness, Guzan, standing by).

Altidore and 18th-place Hull City host 19th-place Burnley in a critical relegation tilt on Saturday. West Ham, in 17th place, just one point above Hull, welcomes 13th-place Sunderland to Boleyn Ground. The Hammers have lost five of their last six games, while the Black Cats have three wins, two ties, and a loss in that span. Needless to say, these are massive games for the Amerks and their clubs.

The same can be said for Friedel and Aston Villa, which face Chelsea in an FA Cup semifinal on Saturday at Wembley. They’ll not only be playing for a place in the final, but also for pride—to redeem themselves after the 7-1 thrashing they received from the Blues two weeks ago.

On Sunday in the Premiership, U.S. keeper Marcus Hahnemann will backstop Wolverhampton when it takes on Stoke City, while American midfielder Clint Dempsey will sit out Fulham’s clash with Liverpool because of a thigh injury he picked up during last week’s win over Wigan.

Here is the weekend U.S. TV schedule (times EST):

SATURDAY, April 10

Hull City v  Burnley, 10:00 a.m., Fox Soccer Channel (FSC)

West Ham v Sunderland, 10:00 a.m., Fox Soccer Plus

Aston Villa v Chelsea (FA Cup Semis), 12:00 p.m., FSC

SUNDAY, April 11

Blackburn v Manchester United, 8:30 a.m., Fox Soccer Plus

Manchester City v Birmingham City,  11:00 a.m., FSC

Tottenham v Portsmouth (FA Cup Semis), 11:00 a.m., Fox Soccer Plus

Enjoy the games.

Stuart Holden Finally Debuts for Bolton

It took a month, but U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden has gotten on the field in a competitive game for Bolton’s first team, starting in Wanderers’ FA Cup fifth-round replay with Tottenham today.

According to the club website, Holden looked “comfortable in possession” and played a part in a first-half chance for Bolton midfielder Matt Taylor, but, unfortunately, his presence was not enough to stop Tottenham from taking a 2-0 lead into the break. Roman Pavlyuchenko and Jermain Defoe, both of whom scored in Tottenham’s 3-0 takedown of Wigan over the weekend, did the damage, bagging goals in the 23rd and 29th minutes, respectively.

Things got worse in the second half for Bolton as defender Andy O’Brien put the ball into his own net two minutes after the break, and Pavlyuchenko scored again two minutes before the final whistle, ending Wanderers’ FA Cup run.

On the bright side, Holden played the full 90, created chances, and put a header on goal. He was dispossessed in the sequence that led to Tottenham’s fourth goal, but all in all, a solid debut for the American.

Read the full match report here.

FA Cup Weekend Wrap

American midfielder Stuart Holden made the match-day squad for Bolton’s fifth-round FA Cup game against Tottenham on Sunday, but he did not get on the field during the 1-1 draw, which was preserved when Wanderers keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen saved a penalty from Spurs’ Tom Huddlestone with 20 minutes remaining.

Wanderers dominated the first half and held a deserved 1-0 lead at the break after a fine buildup led to a goal by Kevin Davies in the 33rd minute.

Jermaine Defoe tied it for Spurs in the 61st minute, taking a pass from Gareth Bale and smashing the ball home from 12 yards out.

Tottenham controlled the game after Defoe’s goal, but could not find the net again. Huddlestone’s poorly taken penalty was the team’s fourth miss from the spot in its last five attempts. Defoe had been relieved of PK duty after missing against Leeds in the previous round of the tournament.

It was Brad Friedel, not Guzan, who got the start for Aston Villa in its fifth-round match with Championship side Crystal Palace, and the U.S. keeper saw his team snatch a controversial 87th-minute equalizer to force a replay at Villa Park on Feb 24.

Palace went ahead 2-1 in the 70th minute on a great goal by Darren Ambrose, and looked to have booked a spot in the FA Cup quarterfinals until Villa was awarded a late corner even though replays showed the ball had gone out off a Villa player. Stiliyan Petrov headed in the resulting kick, and Crystal Palace coach Neil Warnock was not happy about it.

The replay will come at a tricky time for Martin O’Neill’s men, who face Manchester United in the Carling Cup final on Feb 28.

Injured U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey watched his Fulham teammates shrug off League Two side Notts County 4-0 to advance to the FA Cup quarterfinals for the second straight year. They’ll face the winner of Bolton-Tottenham.

In the other fifth-round matches, Premier League leaders Chelsea routed Cardiff City 4-1, with Didier Drogba opening the scoring in the second minute; Premier League cellar-dwellers Portsmouth produced the same scoreline in a welcome drubbing of Southampton, breaking open a game that had been tied 1-1 in the 70th minute; Birmingham City clipped Derby County 2-1; Stoke City tied Manchester City 1-1 thanks to a 57th-minute header from Jamaican international Ricardo Fuller; and Championship teams Reading and West Bromwich Albion battled to a 2-2 draw.

Weekend Preview: FA Cup Fifth Round

There are no Premier League games this weekend, as the schedule makes way for FA Cup fifth-round matchups. Two Americans could see the field in that competition, and several games are on the tube.

Bolton hosts Tottenham on Sunday, and the game could mark the Wanderers debut of American midfielder Stuart Holden, who played 60 minutes with the Bolton reserves on Wednesday. Holden has been nursing a thigh injury since going on trial with Bolton in mid-January.

U.S. keeper Brad Guzan (above) is likely to start for Aston Villa when it visits Championship side Crystal Palace on Sunday. Guzan has been picked over countryman Brad Friedel for all of Villa’s Cup games so far. Palace is currently in 19th place in the 24-team championship. Crystal Palace Fun Fact: This club was the first English team to roll out an artificial-turf field, playing on the fake stuff at Loftus Road from 1981 to ’88.

Recent reports suggest Fulham’s Yank midfielder Clint Dempsey is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a knee ligament strain, but he won’t be available when the Cottagers’ host League Two (that’s the fourth level of British soccer) side Notts County in the FA Cup on Sunday. Fulham is a 6-1 favorite in this one (betting is legal over there, btw), but the Magpies are talking tough!

Other Premier League teams in FA Cup action this weekend are Birmingham City, which visits Championship team Derby County (15th place); Portsmouth, which travels to League One Southampton; Chelsea, which hosts Cardiff City, currently in fourth place in the Championship; and Manchester City, which welcomes fellow Premiership side Stoke City. All of those games are on Saturday. 

Here is the U.S. TV schedule, all times EST:

Saturday:

Chelsea v Cardiff City, Setanta Sports, 7:00 a.m.

Derby County v Birmingham City, Fox Scocer Channel, 10:00 a.m.

Manchester City v Stoke City, Setanta Sports, 12:00 p.m.

Southampton v Portsmouth, Fox Soccer Channel, 7:00 p.m. (delay)

Sunday:

Bolton v Tottenham, Fox Soccer Channel, 8:30 a.m.

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa, Fox Soccer Channel, 10:30 a.m.