Down a goal in the 90th minute against Haiti on Sunday, the USA were in need of a hero. It wasn't going to be Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey or Jozy Altidore, none of whom were even in the stadium. Charlie Davies - the new wonder boy up front - was doing his best, but in the end it was little-known Stuart Holden who rode to the rescue.
"It's the biggest goal of my career," the 23-year-old Houston Dynamo midfielder told FIFA.com after scoring his second goal in his second international appearance. "There was a great sense of relief and it was followed by tremendous excitement."
The game in Foxborough, a suburb of Boston, was Holden's second start in a rotating and highly experimental USA side competing at the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. His long-range strike in the 91st minute, which assured the Americans a 2-2 draw and sole ownership of top spot in their group, capped a performance justly rewarded with the man of the match award. It also helped preserve an unbeaten home run for the US in competitive games stretching all the way back to 2001.
"We scored early, maybe too early" said Holden, who set up the first goal in the sixth minute. "But we conceded two right after the break and then we had to battle and keep them under pressure. When the chance fell to me I just tried to keep it on target."
Holden, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, moved to Texas at age 10 and is eager to admit he had more than just excitement on his mind after securing the draw. "I really wanted to get the ball back to the centre circle because I felt like we could have grabbed another one and won the game."
It is just this type of youthful exuberance and unbridled enthusiasm that is driving Bob Bradley's new-look side as they defend their regional crown. Holden, who won an MLS title with the Dynamo in 2006 and was recently named a 2009 league all-star, has shared locker-rooms with many of his current teammates, and gone head to head with them in the American top flight. "These guys are all familiar to me from MLS or the U-20s or the Olympic team," said Holden, who scored once for the US at last year's Olympic finals in Beijing. "It's a great opportunity for us to get some games, impress the coaches too. It's a competitive atmosphere."
Bradley is clearly using this instalment of the biennial regional showpiece to blood some seldom-used talent. A largely untested group, it is in stark contrast to the relatively star-studded side that shocked the world last month in South Africa by reaching the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup. "He (Holden) can play anywhere in midfield," Bradley said of his young charge, "and if he keeps developing, he'll have a bright future."
Although the versatile player's passion for the game comes from his early days in the UK, he stresses that his footballing education came stateside. "I came from a culture where soccer, or football, was all you thought about and it got in my blood that way," said Holden, who signed with Sunderland in 2005, though never making an appearance, after two seasons of University football. "But I learned the game here and grew up playing in the US, in Texas. So I have a little of both worlds in me."
Holden, currently on two senior caps and counting, realises the heavy expectations on this young side when they pull on the white shirt of the Stars and Stripes. "The Confederations Cup was great for that group of senior players and for soccer in the States," he said. "We, as a younger group, feel we need to uphold that standard as we head back into the World Cup qualifying in August."
However, it's first-things-first for young Holden at the Gold Cup. He is likely to be in from the start again when the US take on Panama in their quarter-final on 18 July in Philadelphia. "They (Panama) push you all the time physically," he said. "We'll need to battle them back, keep our shape and stay strong and tight. If we keep our heads and control the rhythm of the game, we should be OK."