Three Good Questions for: United States national team midfielder Stuart Holden

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ARLINGTON, Texas – For Stuart Holden, the game is indeed “slowing down” as he builds the minutes on the field.

That’s not a bad thing. That’s the way players describe the sensation as a fast paced sport “slows down” and becomes more manageable, the next pass seen sooner, the supporting movement more instinctive, the ability to manage the chaos in tight quarters improving.

During the ongoing Gold Cup, Holden is getting his most extensive use in almost two years. I spoke to Holden on Tuesday from inside Cowboys Stadium, where he and the rest of this United States national team version prepped for Wednesday’s semifinal contest against Honduras just outside of Dallas.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s U.S.-Honduras preview)

“I know it’s an old cliché about the game slowing down, but that was the biggest sign for me, when I had the confidence to start trying things, hitting longer passes, starting to try to get forward more,” Holden said.

Here’s what else the versatile U.S. midfielder, whose long recovery bid is backed by so many interested U.S. Soccer supporters, had to say:

Q: You played against Guatamala before the tournament and then in the first three Gold Cup matches. So were you a bit disappointed not to get on the field for Sunday’s quarterfinal?

Obviously I want to play in every game. But it’s a long tournament and we have shared the minutes around. The guys that played on Sunday had a great result and played really well and obviously now I hope I’ll get a chance to play against Honduras.”

Q: How would you evaluate your tournament so far?

I think it’s been a really good tournament for me in terms of getting my confidence, getting some good minutes under my belt. I feel like I’ve improved with each game, paying some as a sub, and other games as a starter. It’s all about getting into a rhythm again, getting that weekly feeling of playing every week, playing every game, just topping off the tank and really feeling that my fitness is at a great level now.

“My goal is to leave this tournament on a high, hopefully winning the thing and being in great shape to have a great season [with Bolton] this year.”

Q: How has the knee responded so far during the tournament?

I’m in touch with my Bolton [medical trainer] and he is always asking me about the knee, I said to him, ‘I don’t even think about it now.’ For me, that really has been a great thing.  After practice I don’t look at it, I don’t think about icing it straight away. I’m just thinking towards the next game, I’m not thinking about how my knee is going to feel, so that’s been a great feeling.”

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.