Stuart Holden is back on the field. Hip Hip Hooray!

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When considering Stuart Holden’s implausibly long injury layoff, the date to remember is March 19, 2011. Yes, sadly, that far back.

That’s the date of the original injury, when Manchester United defender Jonny Evans mangled the U.S. international’s right knee with a nasty challenge (for which Evans was red carded, which seems like a laughably imbalanced karmic tit for tat now.)

Holden did return to the field about six months later, but only briefly before further cartilage damage was discovered. From there, the subsequent surgery and laborious rehabilitation has kept Holden away from the field for some 16 months.

Today was the day Holden – and so many U.S. Soccer well-wishers – have waited for.

The hard-churning, hard-luck U.S. midfielder, voted Bolton’s Player of the Year for the 2010-11 season despite missing the last two months, returned to the field for Bolton. He entered in the 76th minute of Wanderers’ FA Cup win over Sunderland. (It’s a big, big deal for Bolton, moving into the 4th round of England’s prestigious tournament, not to mention the added juice of seeing a second-tier side advance over a Premiership club.)

One reserve match and 14 minutes plus injury time with the full side (the photo above is from today) hardly puts Holden on the fast track climb up Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team depth chart. He most certainly won’t be ready for the first U.S. match in final round World Cup qualifying in about three weeks.

But for that March 22 contest, the first U.S. home contest (for which the site was announced just a while ago)? Hmmm.

Given his attitude, the big engine inside (a colloquial way of saying the man always seemed blessed with a high VO2 max, or ability for muscles to process oxygen) and all that general Stuart Holden-ness, maybe that one doesn’t seem like a massive stretch.

Realistically, getting to that level in just over two months might still be asking too much, to regain the touch and timing, never mind the extra layers of fitness required of the international level. But it does not seem out of the question that Jurgen Klinsmann would bring Holden to the States to begin assessing where he might fit and how he might assimilate into the group.

This is, after all, an area of USMNT weakness, a lack of experienced, able two-way men once past Michael Bradley.

Either way, it’s a banner day for Holden and for the U.S. Soccer community.