Thursday October 14th, 2010

CHESTER, Pa. -- Stuart Holden is oozing all sorts of confidence.

Becoming a regular in a Premier League lineup after going through a tough, mentally grueling stretch of almost six months will do that to a player.

Holden has fully regained his fitness after suffering a broken leg on an ill-timed Nigel de Jong challenge in the U.S.' friendly against the Netherlands back in March. After playing all of four minutes in the World Cup, Holden worked to earn a starting place in Owen Coyle's central midfield at Bolton over the summer, and he brought his newfound confidence to the U.S.' recent friendlies against Poland and Colombia.

"Starting seven games this year in the Premier League and coming into the national team, I wanted to show that I could play a big role for this team as well," Holden said after the Americans' 0-0 draw with Colombia at PPL Park on Tuesday. "I was a little disappointed that I didn't play more at the World Cup, and now I'm playing at peak fitness and confidence. I feel good out there.

"Everyone knows soccer is a bit of a confidence game. Playing week in and week out, and playing for a manager that encourages you and allows you to express yourself on the field, I feel like that's showing in my play."

It most certainly is. Holden's 90-minute stretch against Poland was arguably his most complete performance in a U.S. jersey.

Playing on the right in coach Bob Bradley's 4-5-1 formation on Saturday, Holden tackled with a purpose and was a catalyst for a number of the U.S.' chances at Chicago's Soldier Field, assisting on the second U.S. goal in the 2-2 draw.

Holden -- and the whole U.S. team, for that matter -- struggled trying to adapt to the experimental 4-3-3 formation against Colombia, which was evident by players seeming a bit uncomfortable and out of position and Holden and senior-team newcomer Brek Shea unable to move the attack forward.

Like the mark of any inform attacker, though, Holden still found a way to contribute despite the U.S.' stagnant offense.

With Landon Donovan getting a rare break from national-team duty, Holden stepped up to become the designated set-piece taker, and just like he did against Poland on Saturday, he delivered a beauty against Colombia.

The most dangerous chance for the United States in the first half came on a well-struck free kick from about 30 yards out, one that curled and sank with perfect pace into the heart of the U.S. group of players in the box. Although Oguchi Onyewu, who scored off a Holden corner kick against Poland, sent his header wide, the service was technically sound.

"I'm going to ask Landon to let me take a few more when he gets back," Holden deadpanned.

"Obviously Landon is good at set pieces, but if I can be a contributor on that end and whip them in from the sides and we can have a bit of a different look ... It's something I've worked hard on in training, and the set piece can be the difference in the game sometimes."

When Donovan returns, he'll most assuredly resume his set-piece duties, but Holden likely impressed enough to lay claim to a starting midfield job for the foreseeable future, assuming Bradley maintains a five-man midfield.

"I play centrally for Bolton, and I love it there, but I know on the national team, midfield is one of our strongest positions and I'm best suited out wide with this team," Holden said. "At the same time, it's a position that requires you to come inside and find the ball, and I'm comfortable doing that as well."

With Donovan on the left, Clint Dempsey playing centrally, Holden on the right and two of the Michael Bradley-Jermaine Jones-Maurice Edu triumvirate in holding roles, the 25-year-old Holden could find himself becoming a key contributor to the national team for years to come.

Another big winner out of the U.S.' two friendlies in the past week was one of the newcomers, Jones.

The FC Schalke 04 midfielder, born in Germany to an American father and German mother, earned his first two caps and was a huge hit with his teammates and soccer writers alike. He was fearless at entering challenges, and his never-ending, box-to-box motor ran for 90 minutes and mimicked that of his partner in the center of the field, Michael Bradley. Jones, who played 90 minutes against both Poland and Colombia, displayed a willingness to move forward in the attack while also being cognizant of leaving the defense exposed.

"Jermaine's fit in well with this group since Day 1," Holden said. "We weren't sure how it was going to work out with the language barrier, but his English is great, he's a great guy off the field, and that translates to his play on the field.

"We saw against Poland the qualities that he brings to this team in the way he battles and still can pick out a pass and get forward in the box."

On two instances, once against Poland and again in the match with Colombia, Jones launched perfectly weighted long passes to an in-stride Jozy Altidore. Against Poland, his delivery led to Altidore's first-half goal, and against Colombia it helped set up a second-half corner kick in a match devoid of quality chances for either side.

"He's a good player, he has good technique and he's able to make those passes," Altidore said. "He's talented. I'm happy that he's here and it's been a pleasure playing with him."

That's not to say there isn't room for improvement.

Jones, who turns 29 next month, plays with a tenacity that leaves him susceptible to receiving fouls and cautions. He's also still not familiar with the team's style of play, something that develops over time while playing with the same group of players on the international stage.

"I thought that his mentality is quite good," coach Bob Bradley said. "He's a competitor. I've said all along that I thought that would fit well into the way we do things."

As for the few Americans Abroad in action on the club circuit over the past 10 days, here's how they fared (season statistics encompass all competitions):

ENGLAND

League One

Anton Peterlin, M, Plymouth Argyle -- In the 18-man squad, did not play in Plymouth Argyle's 2-0 victory over Cheltenham Town in the second round of the North Section of the Football League Trophy competition on Oct. 5. Peterlin was also in the 18 but did not play in Plymouth Argyle's 2-2 draw with Charlton Athletic in league play on Saturday. SEASON: 4 games, 3 starts

Frank Simek, D, Carlisle United -- Started, played 90 minutes and scored the clinching penalty kick in Carlisle's 2-2 (4-3 on penalties) victory over Port Vale in the second round of the South Section of the Football League Trophy competition on Oct. 5. Simek also started and played 90 minutes in Carlisle's 1-0 victory over Notts County in league play on Saturday. SEASON: 12 games, 12 starts

League Two

Jemal Johnson, F, Port Vale -- Started, played 79 minutes in Port Vale's 2-2 (4-3 on penalties) loss to Carlisle United in the second round of the South Section of the Football League Trophy competition on Oct. 5. Johnson also started and played the first half of Port Vale's 1-1 draw with Hereford United in league play on Saturday. SEASON: 7 games, 2 starts

MEXICO

Primera Division

Edgar Castillo, D, San Luis -- Not in the 18 for San Luis' 2-1 loss to Atlas on Saturday. SEASON: 5 games, 1 goal

Herculez Gomez, F, Pachuca -- Not in the 18 for Pachuca's 3-2 victory over UNAM on Saturday. SEASON: 9 games, 1 goal

Sammy Ochoa, F, Estudiantes Tecos -- In the 18, did not play in Tecos' 5-0 loss to UANL on Saturday. SEASON: 10 games, 5 starts, 1 goal

Jose Francisco Torres, M, Pachuca -- In the 18, came on as a 68th-minute substitute in Pachuca's 3-2 victory over UNAM on Saturday. SEASON: 8 games, 5 starts

Marco Vidal, M, Pachuca -- Started, played 90 minutes in Pachuca's 3-2 victory over UNAM on Saturday SEASON: 6 games, 5 starts

ARGENTINA

Primera Division

Michael Hoyos, M, Estudiantes La Plata -- In the 18, did not play in Estudiantes' 2-0 victory over Olimpo de Bahia Blanca on Friday. SEASON: 5 games, 3 starts

IRELAND

Premier Division

Ryan Guy, F, St. Patrick's Athletic FC -- Started, played 90 minutes and scored the opening goal in the 14th minute of St. Patrick's Athletic's 3-0 victory over Drogheda United on Oct. 5. Guy headed in a rebound off a corner kick that had hit the crossbar to give the Saints all the offense they would need. Guy also started and played 90 minutes in St. Pats' 1-0 loss to Bohemians on Saturday. St. Pats is still in contention for a 2011 UEFA Europa League qualifying-round berth, which is given to the second- and third-place teams in the League of Ireland Premier Division. The Saints, who have two league matches remaining, are three points behind third-place Sligo Rovers, the team they play to close out the season. St. Pats could also earn a Europa League berth by winning the FAI Cup. SEASON: 33 games, 31 starts, 7 goals

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