The world beckons for Stuart Holden. Now comes the difficult part of trying to figure out what to do with all of that freedom.
Make no mistake, Holden's going to have a few choices across the pond this winter. His price (free), his age (24) and his citizenship (dual American/Scottish with a handy U.K. passport) all make him an attractive take for any number of clubs in the United Kingdom, his preferred European destination. Oh, and the lad's got a bit of ability too if those U.S. caps and that Best XI selection in 2009 provide a reliable indicator.
Scottish clubs are already intrigued by the thought of bringing Holden into the fold. Aberdeen and Rangers are thought to feature among the suitors, though Dons boss Mark McGhee suggested that his side may not have the requisite funds to make a suitable offer. Other clubs from south of the border – Premier League and Championship only, fellas – will likely register an interest if they haven't already.
All of the attention might flatter Holden into thinking that he should take the best deal or move to the biggest club. Considering the stakes in play for Holden in a World Cup year, that approach could inflict irreparable harm to Holden's dreams of showcasing his talent on the world's biggest stage.
Although Holden enjoyed a fine MLS season and featured regularly in the U.S. squad during the latter stages of World Cup qualifying, the Houston midfielder is by no means a lock for South Africa. In order to retain his place, Holden will have to play regularly and perform well to hold off any and all comers. With a roster spot so close and a future World Cup appearance never certain, Holden would be foolish to squander the chance by making the wrong move.
One look at the cautionary tale of European bench sitters Freddy Adu (Benfica, on loan to Belenenses) and DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers) shows how quickly a player can drop out of the national team reckoning when injuries, poor form and a healthy dose of bench time take hold. It doesn't take much to notice that those two players are on the books of large clubs and wonder whether Holden would join them as a potential bench ornament should he fail to assess his options properly.
Holden's brief experience in the Sunderland reserve setup should serve him well in the decision process if he remains honest with himself. At this stage in his career, Holden should know that he simply isn't a player who would rank as more than a squad option in his position – presumably on the right side of midfield – at Celtic, Rangers or a top-half Premier League club. That isn't a knock on Holden's ample ability, but rather a frank assessment of his consistency, the resources of those clubs and the quality of the players generally found in those squads. A glance toward Jozy Altidore's on-again, off-again starting role with Hull would reinforce the point and add that a certain place in the starting XI isn't on offer in the bottom half of the Premier League either.
That isn't to say Holden should re-sign with MLS on the cheap or sell himself short with a small club that isn't willing to pay the going rate in order to ensure a first-team berth. Few players of Holden's age and ability enter the free market without any strings attached. Holden has to cash in and sign a deal that will grant him some financial security in case injury strikes or form falters.
MLS wants to retain Holden, but Holden should only entertain an offer to stay with Houston on his terms. With his goal of an eventual return to U.K. in mind, Holden likely believes the typical, long-term MLS deal wouldn't make sense and knows that he holds enough leverage in this instance to demand something considerably more suitable.
The type of contract Holden should seek – a two- or three-year guaranteed pact with a salary at least nine or ten times his current base salary of $34,728 to achieve financial stability and a relatively modest minimum-release clause to ensure he won't encounter MLS' fabled reluctance to sell if he does well at the World Cup – isn't one the American top flight is usually keen to offer.
In this instance, a deal might make sense for both parties – Holden could continue his development and assure himself of first-team minutes, while MLS could avoid losing an asset for free, keep Houston from losing both its central midfielders in one offseason and reap the eventual transfer windfall by selling him in a year or two – if they are willing to look outside the box to get a deal done. If negotiations falter, Holden should bid the Dynamo a fond farewell, exercise his liberty to look abroad and nestle into a situation with decent wages and significant playing time on the table.
Freedom grants choice, but it also carries responsibility. In order for Holden to achieve his dreams for club and country, he must choose his next move wisely.
Around the League
- English reports linked Landon Donovan with a loan move to Everton yesterday. If I'm Donovan, I'm looking at David Moyes' preference for a 4-5-1 formation, the usual presence of a more robust forward as the lone frontrunner and the Toffees' depth in midfield and wondering whether there might be a better option with a more certain starting berth somewhere else.
- In a move that everyone has seen coming for weeks now, New York unveiled former IK Start executive Erik Soler as its new sporting director and general manager on Monday. “The guy who scored on the final kick in the MLS Final, Robbie Russell, was the first player I took (from the U.S.),” Soler said when asked about his knowledge of MLS. “I brought him directly out of college to a small club in Norway. I was very happy for him, but of course, I’m not going to claim that I’m a MLS expert. I’ve become a generalist in football, I’m an expert in European soccer, but I think I have a sensible ability to learn things quite quickly.” Soler drew rave reviews from the media members in attendance, but he'll have to adapt quickly and use those European connections to rebuild a decrepit Red Bulls roster in order to find success.
- Soler said he's looking for “someone with experience” as he begins the search for the new Red Bulls manager. “What we are doing is try to figure out what kind of coach we would like to hire,” Soler said. “We are at the moment, very open-minded, looking at different names, different places within the U.S., outside of the U.S. That’s going to go on for a while until we find the right candidate and we can agree with it.” Not sure those words are particularly encouraging for interim boss Richie Williams' chances at the full-time gig, even though Soler said he hoped to include Williams somewhere on the staff.
- New York also “has some interest” in former Israeli youth international and current Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Shay Abutbul, New York Times scribe Jack Bell reported on Twitter (@JackBell) yesterday. Abutbul was linked with the Red Bulls during the summer, but it remains to be seen whether this fresh link has any legs.
- “It's moving along quite well actually,” Chicago technical director Frank Klopas told Chicago Now yesterday when queried about the Fire's coaching search. “I'm feeling pretty good about it. At this moment it's about [putting together] the list of candidates and... identifying a list of guys that we feel can lead this team going forward.”
- D.C. United has narrowed its coaching shortlist to two names and is expected to name its new coach within the next ten days, according to The Washington Post. The likeliest two choices, according to the Post: former Kansas City boss Curt Onalfo and current University of Akron coach Caleb Porter.
- New England has re-signed Kheli Dube, Kenny Mansally and Sainey Nyassi. Those new contracts presumably come with a pay bump after all three players made close to the minimum of $34,000 last season.
- Out-of-contract Kansas City forward Kei Kamara is on a week-long trial with French second division side Le Havre, according to a France Football report.
- Lost in the news last week: A soccer-specific stadium is coming to the outskirts of Atlanta. The Atlanta Beat will partner with Kennesaw State University to build a $16.5 million, 8,300-seat stadium in Kennesaw, Ga. The location makes sense considering the unique nature of the women's soccer specific stadium: the venue will be in close proximity to (Brandi) Chastain Road.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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