BY MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- While some are calling the United States Gold Cup roster a “B” squad, you won’t hear that term from head coach Jurgen Klinsmann or any of the players. For the 23 players that make up the squad, a standout Gold Cup can lead to bigger and brighter things.
No one knows that better than Stuart Holden, who parlayed a standout 2009 Gold Cup showing into a contract with a Premier League club and a spot on the 2010 World Cup roster.
However, a knee injury in March of 2011 derailed the 27-year-old’s once-skyrocketing career. From the time of the original injury to January of this year, Holden saw the field just once in a non-reserve match for his club, the Bolton Wanderers.
Since returning from injury earlier this year, the midfielder has made his way back into the U.S. radar. Holden saw his first action for the USMNT since 2010 in the squad’s 4-2 loss to Belgium on May 29.
More recently, Holden stood out in the U.S. team’s recent 6-0 win vs. Guatemala, a match that saw him earn SBI Man of the Match honors. Now Holden will look to ride the momentum of that strong showing into another standout Gold Cup showing.
“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.
Holden is one of two European-based players (the other is Michael Parkhurst) to be on both June’s World Cup Qualifying roster and the one for the Gold Cup. According to Klinsmann, the most important thing for Holden is to get on the field and play and train as much as he can.
“That was our plan. That’s why we brought him 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,” Klinsmann said. “And now he has the opportunity to put his stamp on this Gold Cup.”
His first major minutes came in Friday’s 6-0 victory over Guatemala in San Diego. Coming on at halftime, Holden had an assist, while also controlling the middle of the pitch. It was the most minutes Holden had played in a match under Klinsmann.
“For me personally, it was just to show Jurgen that I can play in the system and I can be a contributor on this team,” Holden said. “It’s more important how the team is playing and if I can be out there and contribute in positive ways and help us get results, then that is the main goal for me and the team as a unit.”
Holden’s quality play was not lost on Klinsmann.
“I think that performance against Guatemala in the second half, showed you that he can be very effective on the field and make a difference,” Klinsmann said.
The last six weeks has given Holden his first opportunity to impress Klinsmann in person, since he was hired as manager in the summer of 2011. And the more Holden has played, the more his play has been elevated, according to Klinsmann.
“I think it is great to see Stuart back in rhythm. It’s just great to see him back getting more and more confident and getting more settled. All he needs his games,” Klinsmann said.
When Holden gets onto the field, he will try to replicate his 2009 Gold Cup performance. Holden scored two goals in that tournament, on his way to being named to the all-tournament team.
If his showing against Guatemala is any indication, Holden could wind up having an even stronger showing in the 2013 edition of the Gold Cup.