After being sidelined with injuries for the past few years, Stuart Holden is raring to go and hopes to reward Jurgen Klinsmann's faith in him.
Holden, once a rising star for the national team before multiple severe injuries stalled his development, appeared raring to go during the Stars and Stripes' practice at First Energy Stadium on Monday, two days before the U.S. faces Belgium in a friendly.
"It feels fantastic to be back," Holden said. "It's like the first day of school."
He added: "It felt great just to put the jersey back on, put the crest back on and just be with this group of guys. I love being with the national team. I love representing my country. It's been a great start to camp."
Holden has been dealing with injuries for quite some time. First, against the Netherlands in 2010, Nigel De Jong broke the midfielder's leg in a friendly. Then, with his club team Bolton, Manchester United's Johnny Evans ruptured the former Houston Dynamo star's anterior cruciate ligament on March 2011, forcing him out for six months. Holden tried to make a return later that year against Aston Villa in a Carling Cup match, but after the match learned that he had cartilage damage, keeping him out for another six months.
Holden last played for the United States in a friendly against Colombia on Oct. 12, 2010. Still, his resolve hasn't wavered.
Holden traveled back and forth to the U.S. from England for rehab in Delaware. During his first comeback attempt, there was plenty of criticism suggesting that he was rushed back and shouldn't have played 90 minutes against Villa. In the subsequent months, Holden was much more cautious with his approach. He aimed to originally return to playing in October last year but delayed his return to the playing field until January before being loaned to Sheffield Wednesday to get some match fitness.
Overall, Holden has made five appearances in 2013, four for United and one substitute appearance for Bolton. Now, with the U.S., Holden believes he is one step closer to returning to his best. It is unlikely that he will see significant minutes in his return to the national team but he insists that he wants to prove himself.
"My goals are to contribute," Holden explained. "Obviously, I want to keep on getting better, keep getting fitter and stronger... but at the same time, I want to show that I can play a part in this process of World Cup qualification.
"Whatever that role is for me, I'll do it to the best of my ability. Hopefully, when I get that chance, I'll take it and not look back."
Holden admitted there have been significant changes since the last time he was called up to the national team - when the team was still led by Bob Bradley. The 27-year-old stated that one of his biggest tasks was adapting and integrating to the current philosophy by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
"Yeah, a lot has changed since the last time I've been here but it's been exciting changes," Holden said. "It's something you get used to. You learn the new coaches, new style of play and training and new players are obviously in. It's just about integrating myself back into that mix, to be a part of a team that will do well going forward and now some important games in qualifying."
When Klinsmann announced that Holden would be returning to the national team fold, it was seen by many as a huge leap of faith. After all, the Germany boss left out Landon Donovan, the U.S.'s all-time leader in goals scored, but was willing to take a chance on Holden. Klinsmann explained to reporters in April that he was impressed with Holden's attitude throughout his recovery.
"Stuart excites us. He is really coming back. What he really needs is games, games, games - minutes, minutes, minutes. It's looking very positive," Klinsmann said. "He doesn't want a [summer] break! He said, ‘I had a break for one and a half years.'"
Holden appreciates Klinsmann's faith and hopes that he can reward his national team manager.
"He's been really great to me to be honest. Just encouraging me and giving me confidence," Holden said. "He just said, 'Come in here and enjoy it. Work hard and we'll see what happens and go from there.'
"After a pretty long season and working pretty hard to get back from the injury to be where I am now and back with the national team, it just gives me a platform to have more encouragement and confidence to push on. To take it to the next level now."
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