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.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.