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Stuart Holden – The Future of American Soccer?


Say what you will about the U.S. National Team’s performance in the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup, after all it is an experimental squad seemingly designed to give Coach Bob Bradley a better idea of the quality and the extent of his team’s depth as it approaches the second half of CONCACAF’s Fourth, and Final, Round of World Cup Qualification matches and presumably the World Cup finals in South Africa next year, but it is clear that Stuart Holden is a future face of U.S. Soccer.

The 23 year old attacking midfielder was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, but grew up in Sugar Land, Texas, the ever expanding Houston suburban city. As a youth, Holden suffered an injury that resulted in him gaining enough weight that his soccer dreams appeared dead, but he regained his form and obtained a spot on Clemson University’s soccer team in 2003. In early 2005, Sunderland brought Holden over to England, but on March 12th of that year he was jumped outside of a bar in Newcastle and his left eye socket was fractured.

Holden returned to the United States and joined the newly christened Houston Dynamo in 2006. Holden made his MLS debut on May 27, 2006 and scored his first MLS goal in a 1-1 draw against New England Revolution on July 22, 2006. That November, Holden converted his penalty kick in the Dynamo’s MLS Cup victory over New England.

In 2008, Holden was a member of the U.S. Olympic Soccer team at Beijing, scoring the winning goal in the team’s first match, which was against Japan. It wasn’t until the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup that Holden finally earned his first senior national team cap for the U.S.A. when he started against Grenada on July 4th in Seattle, Washington. Holden also scored his first senior team goal in that match. Holden did not see any playing time against Honduras in the second match of the group stage, but on Saturday July 11th, Holden scored the stoppage time equalizer against Haiti. In addition to scoring two goals in his two starts, Holden also garnered an assist on DavyArnaud’s goal against Haiti and showed himself worthy of wearing the number 10 jersey with his strong play in midfield and willingness to take solid shots from distance.

Holden’s recent success at the international level has to be attributed, in part, to the leadership duties he inherited when Dwayne De Rosario was traded to Toronto F.C. last fall. Initially, Holden appeared tentative in his new role as leader of the midfield, passing when he should have shot for goal and shooting for goal when he should have passed. Despite some early missteps, Holden has managed 4 goals and 3 assists for the Dynamo this season, in addition to being a strong presence in the midfield.

To solely focus on Holden’s on pitch performance would be a mistake, because Holden has come to epitomize the idea of the citizen athlete. In addition to his numerous appearances in the local media for the purpose of promoting the Dynamo, Holden, along with many of his teammates, makes regular, lengthy visits to the Texas Children’s Hospital. And for those of us who follow him (and his teammates) on Twitter, we know Holden likes to get into mischief and play complicated jokes on his teammates.

The reality for American soccer in general and MLS in particular is that it has failed to offer up a true, well-rounded poster-player for the game. While Landon Donovan is a talented player on the pitch, his off pitch persona is not very well defined. Meanwhile, a player like Stuart Holden has proven his worth on the pitch, at both the club and country level, and has developed a strong persona that extends beyond the game and the pitch.

Its players like Holden that MLS and USSF need to promote, to make their chosen poster boy appeals to the die hard footy fan as well as the neophyte footy fan. When you think NBA you think Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. When you think NFL you think Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. When you think MLB you think Derek Jeter. But when the run of the mill American sports fan thinks soccer or MLS who do they think of? I’m not sure, but I do hope it isn’t that non-American David Beckham.

The time has come for MLS and USSF to start promoting certain players, such as Stuart Holden, in the wider media and working to get them strong endorsement deals. After 13 years, the MLS needs to establish its media/marketing image in a manner that appeals to wide spectrums of Americans. And, on the heels of its recent Confederations Cup resurgence, USSF needs to lock in the National team’s place in American society.

While Holden’s technical skills would likely benefit from playing in Europe, he is a player that MLS and USSF are better off keeping stateside, even if that means finding ways to arrange short, complicated loans for him to European teams during the MLS off-season. Because, in the end, it would be detrimental to the future of MLS and USSF if Holden spends his career in Europe, where mainstream American sports media can ignore him. The time has come for MLS and USSF to start promoting its marquee guys, and they wouldn’t go wrong by promoting Holden.

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  1. soccer goals

    July 17, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Dempsey should start on the right for the World Cup.

  2. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    July 15, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    No offense HSNCal, but the only way Dempsey doesn’t start at RM in the World Cup is if he starts as a withdrawn striker or on the left side.

    I agree that his work rate is lesser than some of our guys but he has a killer instinct in front of goal in critical situations that the US has rarely if ever had going way back to the 1980s. Sorry, Dempsey isn’t sitting.

  3. Brian Zygo

    July 15, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    @not just yet

    For poster boy status, I was thinking of MLS more then US Soccer. MLS does need easily identifiable stars, like NFL, MLB, and NBA.

  4. HSNCal

    July 15, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    I would hope Holden gets a look at being in the starting 11 for qualifying, especially over Humpty Dempsey at right mid. The only thing that guy is good for is occasionally poaching a goal when someone else does all the work to create it. Holden was the best player on the Olympic squad (granted not saying a lot) and is continuing to improve since. He already has smarts, vision, and great quickness of pace, and he will get quicker at ball distribution by getting more experience at the speed of international play. I agree that Feilhaber should be given the nod in central mid, probably alongside Bradley, but Holden would be a big improvement on both sides of the ball compared to the fluke from Fulham.

  5. not just yet

    July 14, 2009 at 11:04 am

    I do agree that Holden will have a bright future with US soccer. But trying to make him a poster boy before he is a real star will do nothing to further his career. While he is certainly older than Freddy, I still think we should just let talented players be talented players, not fix on one until they develop a complex, and get slammed by the realities of Europe.

    We don’t need a poster boy. We need a whole team full of players that can lacerate top teams. We’re closet than ever. Let’s not overdo it.

  6. Brian Zygo

    July 14, 2009 at 7:18 am

    Eursnob – please get your facts straight before claiming that Holden was a failure. As Park pointed out, shortly after arriving at Sunderland Holden was a victim of an unprovoked assault, see the following from BBC:

    What you also fail to overlook is that since that incident, Holden has benefited from being on a MLS team coached by Dominic Kinnear and John Spencer. It is under their coaching that Holden has flourished as a footballer and I doubt he would have received this type of coaching at Sunderland.

  7. park bolivar

    July 13, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Er, looks like that story was in the article. Nevermind then.

  8. park bolivar

    July 13, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    I was under the impression that Holden didn’t start at Sunderland because he got physically attacked (broke face bones and such) prior to a match…. and decided to head back to the US.

  9. Berlin

    July 13, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Holden for WC2010!

  10. Eurosnob You Call Me. Real Fan I Call Myself

    July 13, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    This site gets more and more comical by the day. We had an article not long ago saying the USA should play with an MLS based squad in a major tournament. We saw how good that was the other night against Haiti. KArtik redeemed himself a bit with a good post match analysis, but K dude it’s your freaking league who wanted the turf placed in that stadium, so don’t blame FIFA.

    Now we have this piece which glosses over Holden’s failure at Sunderland much like Donovan’s failure at Leverkusen- actually failing at Leverkusen is more respectable. A guy loses the olympic tournament for the US by not passing the ball to an open man to seek his own glory and then commiting a shameful and reckless foul ins toppage time that leads to an own goal and somehow he should be poster child for US Soccer? A guy scores goals against GRENADA and HAITI and he should behailed as the future of US Soccer.

    Are you joking man? Kartik, have some freaking perspective before you write stupid crap like this. You do some very good work but pieces like this which are clearly meant to prove your cred to MLS lovers make you look like a total complete moronic tool as did your statement about not watching the world football challenge because it isn’t marketed by SUM and could hurt MLS.

    It’s MLS’ own fault they play through international breaks and didn’t get SUM in on this action. Don’t deprive those of us who may actually want to see good football this summer that so you can cover Stuart Holden and mighty US Gold Cup team beat up on the Honduras C team in the final. If we play Holden instead of let’s say Dempsey or Feilhaber in qualifying then we deserve what is coming to us.

    Kartik, sometimes you need to just stop pandering and stick with what I sense is your true views on tactics and technical football instead of producing garbage pieces like this praising a guy for scoring against Haiti.

  11. Can't stop watchin'

    July 13, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    You won’t find many players with an attitude like Stuart…willing to play soccer with his littlest fans at camp and with his older fans after they buy a round of golf with him at a charity function. Nevermind the time he gives to Texas Children’s Hospital, along with many of his teammates…why? Just because!!! They know they can make a difference in the life of a child and their family with a simple visit. All professional athletes should take a chapter out of the “How to be a good human being” book from Stuart and give back to their communities as well.

  12. Molly W

    July 13, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Dear Oscar Baechler,

    Did you know that Seattle, Washington has the highest suicide rate of any city in the United States? Interesting…

    Best Wishes,

    -Houston Dynamo (and Stuart Holden) lover

  13. silente

    July 13, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Holden truly seems like a great personality. My son is 8 has just finished his 4th Houston Dynamo camp in the last 2 years. Stuart is one of a number of Dynamo players who have not only made appearances at these camps but have actually taken time to talk to the kids and play with them on the training fields. A lot of press was given recently to the wonder those kids in Colorado must have felt at getting to train with Zidane, and I do think that was a great moment for them but, honestly, for my son training with Stuart Holden, a real-life-player for his hometown Dynamo is just as special.

  14. Rex

    July 13, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Stuart has the looks and personality to be the perfect player for the image of MLS. I personally thought he would break into mainstream media during the Olympics but the USA’s failure to advance (partially thanks to Stu reckless tackle) killed that idea.

  15. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    July 13, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Actually here is what I wrote on the Gold Cup post:

    Another note: The much ballyhooed World Football Challenge is scheduled to begin this week. I for one will not be covering it in any fashion (other than perhaps critical). We have a Continental Championship, the Gold Cup ongoing and the decision of this phony event to use match promoters who are not linked with MLS should leave us all concerned. The three participating European clubs will cannibalize the audience for the Gold Cup and MLS matches, and because SUM is not involved MLS will not get a piece of the action. Moreover, ESPN showing the matches ensures it’ll be well covered. All of this adds up to an event whose failure would be a good thing for all of us. MLS and the USMNT do not need to be competing with Chelsea on its own shores during our season and our continental championship. Other than the Gooch angle with Milan and seeing if Club America is as bad this year as last this “tournament” should hold no interest for the true American soccer fan. I’m not bashing European football in saying this but we have real competitive league and international matches going on at the same time as what is a glorified set of friendlies designed to extort money out of fans who should be spending that cash supporting MLS, USL or the USSF instead.

  16. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    July 13, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Bill, how many guys have you seen I give an 8 too? Holden was the star, no doubt, but we knew that already.

    The reason I focused on the Haitian team is because the ignorance of many US fans and bloggers towards opposition much of it domestically based is embarrassing. I love how some of our fans don’t even know about players playing in their own back yard and act surprised when they do something well against the US. We’ve seen it time and time again in CONCACAF from MLS and USL guys. This was just another case in point- searching around the web after the game I saw no real analysis of the Haitian team, where they played their club football or even how they had performed recently.

    I have been guilty of attacking the English press, but do you think England’s writers have such ignorance of their comparable opposition within UEFA? You bet they don’t. It’s really insulting that by simply trying to better understand CONCACAF which after all is our region and by trying to size up and understand our opposition I get nothing but grief.

    Besides, I am loyal to MLS myself. You wont see me covering this sham World Series of Football or what ever it is called this summer because it is not promoted by SUM, thus it is not legitimate in my eyes and was scheduled in direct conflict with our continental championship, the Gold Cup which to me is eurosnoberry 101. If other writes on this site cover it, fine but I won’t be out of simple respect for MLS and CONCACAF.

  17. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    July 13, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    The single problem with Holden is he doesn’t fit Bradley’s system. Which is why despite this tournament his best bet maybe in the next four year cycle when the tactics are more conventional. I’m not bashing Bradley-in fact his original tactical setup clearly causes trouble for top national teams, but it is unconventional and doesn’t really fit Holden’s skill set.

  18. bill

    July 13, 2009 at 11:59 am

    I agree. Funny how your compatriot and philosopher of football Katrik does not even consider Holden as one of the bright spots in the team. It’s those darn USL goggles and that big tall soap box he’s propped up on. All he could talk about were the Haitian USL’ers. Well done by you Brian for actually giving credit where credit is due.

  19. Oscar Baechler

    July 13, 2009 at 10:23 am

    He’s a great player. Which is why it was so satisfying this weekend when the Sounders destroyed Houston. We made that team as ugly as their city ;p

  20. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    July 13, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Adam Edg, you gave me a perfect teaser for my review of the Beckham Experiment which should be up later this afternoon.

  21. Adam Edg

    July 13, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Great points. You need marquee players to help build the league’s public image. The fact that he is a hometown player makes him even more valuable. These are the kind of guys MLS should be salivating over.
    It’s time to replace that whiny punk Landycakes with guys like Holden. Helping to land endorsement deals would be great too, but isn’t the league limited by its Adidas contract? Better pay would be nice too, but MLS isn’t bringing in enough dough to pay too much to very many players. Too bad Holden is not in the top tier of the payscale…

  22. Nick Davies

    July 13, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Holden & Rogers really stood out in the first game, was surprised not to see Holden get the nod v Honduras. These are the first two games I’ve seen him play, he is player playing with so much confidence at the moment and I want to see him more both with the national team & Houston. I hope the scouts from my club have been watching 😉

  23. eplnfl

    July 13, 2009 at 7:47 am

    I’m glad I’m not the only homer around. Good job letting all of us know what is Holden’s long and hard road to making headlines(well deserved) on the national team level. His success is well earned.

    You bring up a good point about how MLS should be doing more promotion of it’s talent. That should be nationally and locally. It seems that a soccer player will only become known to the public if he makes good on the national team. MLS can do more for it’s players including paying them more!

  24. park bolivar

    July 13, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Holden’s 2009 salary: $34,728.75

    He’s 24 or 25. If he’s as good as they say he is, he’d be smart to follow the scrilla.

  25. andy065

    July 13, 2009 at 12:37 am

    I fully support this post. Landon Donovan is a highly regarded player in the US, but has only seen trials in major European clubs, like Bayern this past off-season. I honestly see Stuart Holden becoming the next iconic midfielder in US Soccer.

  26. Jonathan

    July 13, 2009 at 12:29 am

    Great article! I think Stewart greatly adds to the depth of the U.S. National Team and will make a significant difference in raising the Benchmark for the American game.

  27. erp

    July 13, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Bah. Do us all a favor: skip the patriotic pipe dreams and send him to Europe.

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