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Holden's injury ordeal appears to finally be over

Photo: Jon Super/AP

Stuart Holden lies in pain after suffering a major knee injury in March 2011.

The most notable event involving an American playing abroad this past week did not occur in a top-flight league. It didn't even occur in a first-team match. Even so, it has the potential to be a starting point for one of the most intriguing subplots for the U.S. national team in 2013.

Stuart Holden came through a Bolton reserve match unscathed, playing 65 minutes in his first game since October 2011. A healthy and fit Holden's inclusion for both club and country has been a long-running "what If" scenario, dating to March 2010, when his leg was snapped by a vicious Nigel de Jong tackle in a United States-Netherlands friendly. The injury derailed any shot of Holden, a hard-working, technical and tenacious midfielder, being at full strength for that summer's World Cup, and as a result, he was limited to four minutes in the tournament, coming off the bench late in the opener against England.

After turning in seven standout months for Bolton the following season, Holden suffered his next setback on a collision with Manchester United's Jonny Evans, one that ended his breakout campaign and severely injured his right knee but did not prevent Holden from being named Bolton's Player of the Season. His comeback seven months later was cut short when it was found that he needed even more surgery, and his ensuing six-month comeback timetable morphed into a 15-month episode. Finally, it has reached its conclusion.

Holden was a reserve option for Bolton's FA Cup match against Sunderland on Tuesday. He has a coaching staff and club unwilling to rush him back for fear of sparking another spell on the sidelines.

"I felt good, sharp and fit," Holden told Bolton's website after his reserve game. "It was good to put some tackles in, to get on the ball and to be playing in a real game. I now feel that I am getting closer to making my return to the first team. It has been a long road, but it is one in which I have maintained perspective and I have been taking it at the right pace. It is now important that I don't get carried away at this late stage.

"But as far as how my knee felt and how I felt out there, I think I can come away from that feeling really good about it all and now I need to do the proper things during the recovery and prepare myself for the next game. If all goes well from this then I don't anticipate any reaction and I can now take the next step. That will be playing a bit longer and then I think I will be ready to roll with the full 90 minutes. I am very close now. I have worked so hard to get to this stage and I don't want to do anything now to mess that up. The manager said that I had done well after the game. He has been very encouraging and understanding about the situation since he got here. I am very thankful for that and he doesn't put any pressure on me to rush back. We have all got the long-term goal in mind."

Keeping perspective and long-term goals at the forefront are crucial for Holden, 27. He may very well don a U.S. jersey again in a meaningful match with World Cup implications. For the time being, though, it is about getting there step-by-step to ensure that no more "what If" scenarios pop up.

As Holden's manager, Dougie Freedman, said Monday, "He's got one more hurdle to go -- to get in the team -- and he deserves it."

No Americans scored goals this past week, although Michael Bradley came the closest to both scoring one and setting one up in AS Roma's frustrating 1-0 loss to Catania in Italy. The Americans who play in leagues in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands are set to resume after their respective winter breaks in the coming days, but here is how the Americans abroad in action fared this past week (season statistics encompass all competitions):

England

Premier League

Geoff Cameron, D/M, Stoke City -- Started, played 90 minutes in Stoke City's 4-0 loss to Chelsea on Saturday. SEASON: 22 games, 21 starts

Cody Cropper, GK, Southampton -- Not in the 18 for Southampton's 1-0 win over Aston Villa on Saturday. SEASON: 0 games

Clint Dempsey, M/F, Tottenham -- In the 18, came on as a 69th-minute substitute in Tottenham's 0-0 draw with Queens Park Rangers on Saturday. SEASON: 26 games, 20 starts, 6 goals

Maurice Edu, D/M, Stoke City -- Not in the 18 for Stoke City's 4-0 loss to Chelsea. SEASON: 1 game

Brad Friedel, GK, Tottenham -- In the 18, did not play in Tottenham's 0-0 draw with Queens Park Rangers. SEASON: 12 games, 12 starts, 17 goals allowed, 1 clean sheet

Brad Guzan, GK, Aston Villa -- In the 18, did not play in Villa's 3-1 loss to Bradford City in the first leg of the League Cup semifinals Tuesday. Guzan started, played 90 minutes and made three saves in a 1-0 loss to Southampton in league play Saturday. SEASON: 21 games, 21 starts, 38 goals allowed, 6 clean sheets

Tim Howard, GK, Everton - Started, played 90 minutes, made three saves and earned the clean sheet in Everton's 0-0 draw with Swansea City on Saturday. SEASON: 23 games, 23 starts, 26 goals allowed, 3 clean sheets

Eric Lichaj, D, Aston Villa -- In the 18, did not play in Villa's 3-1 loss to Bradford City in the first leg of the League Cup semifinals and a 1-0 loss to Southampton in league play. SEASON: 19 games, 12 starts

League Championship

Conor Doyle, F, Derby County -- Not in the 18 for Derby County's 2-1 loss to Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday. SEASON: 3 games, 1 start

Stuart Holden, M, Bolton -- Not in the 18 for Bolton's 1-1 draw with Millwall on Saturday. Holden made his return with Bolton's reserves and started on the bench for Tuesday's FA Cup match against Sunderland, looking for his first competitive, first-team action in 15 months. SEASON: 0 games

Tim Ream, D, Bolton -- Started, played 90 minutes in Bolton's 1-1 draw with Millwall. SEASON: 13 games, 11 starts

Jonathan Spector, D/M, Birmingham City -- In the 18, came on as a halftime substitute in Birmingham's 1-1 draw with Huddersfield Town on Saturday. SEASON: 23 games, 19 starts, 1 goal

Zak Whitbread, D, Leicester City -- Not in the 18 for Leicester City's 4-0 win over Bristol City on Saturday. SEASON: 15 games, 14 starts, 1 goal

League One

Mike Grella, F, Scunthorpe United -- Started, played 90 minutes in Scunthorpe's 2-1 win over Colchester United on Saturday. SEASON: 17 games, 11 starts, 2 goals

Robbie Rogers, M, Stevenage -- Not in the 18 for Stevenage's 2-1 loss to Doncaster Rovers on Saturday. Rogers' loan to Stevenage expired on Tuesday, and according to his parent club Leeds United's website, Rogers has had his contract terminated by mutual consent and is now without a club. SEASON: 9 games, 3 starts

Frank Simek, D, Carlisle United -- Started, played 90 minutes in Carlisle's 1-0 win over Coventry City on Sunday. SEASON: 27 games, 25 starts

Italy

Serie A

Michael Bradley, M, AS Roma -- Started, played 90 minutes in Roma's 1-0 loss to Catania on Sunday. SEASON: 15 games, 14 starts, 1 goal

Spain

Primera Division

Oguchi Onyewu, D, Malaga -- Started, played 90 minutes in Malaga's 4-1 win over Eibar in the second leg of their Copa del Rey Round of 16 tie on Tuesday. Malaga advanced on a 5-2 aggregate and will face Barcelona in the quarterfinals, with the first leg slated for Wednesday at Camp Nou. Onyewu was in the 18 but did not play in a 3-1 loss to Barcelona in league play Sunday. SEASON: 8 games, 7 starts, 2 goals

Segunda Division

Carlos Bocanegra, D, Racing Santander -- Not in the 18 for Racing Santander's 2-0 loss to Hercules on Sunday. SEASON: 16 games, 16 starts (7 games, 7 starts with Rangers)

Portugal

Primeira Liga

Caleb Patterson-Sewell, GK, Vitoria Setubal -- In the 18, did not play in Vitoria Setubal's 1-0 loss to Porto in their Taca de Liga group match Wednesday and a 5-0 win over Moreirense in league play Sunday. SEASON: 5 games, 5 starts, 12 goals allowed, 1 clean sheet

Tony Taylor, F, Estoril Praia -- In the 18, came on as a 64th-minute substitute in Estoril's 1-0 loss to Nacional in their Taca de Liga group match Wednesday. Taylor was also in the 18 and came on as an 81st-minute substitute in a 1-0 win over Beira Mar in league play Monday. SEASON: 9 games, 3 starts

Mexico

Liga MX

DaMarcus Beasley, M, Puebla -- Started, played 69 minutes in Puebla's 1-1 draw with Toluca on Sunday. SEASON: 2 games, 2 starts

Jonathan Bornstein, D, Tigres UANL -- In the 18, did not play in Tigres' 3-1 win over Atlante on Sunday. SEASON: 0 games

Edgar Castillo, D, Tijuana -- Started, played 90 minutes and picked up a yellow card in Tijuana's 1-0 victory over Leon on Saturday. SEASON: 2 games, 2 starts

Joe Corona, M, Tijuana -- Started, played 90 minutes in Tijuana's 1-0 win over Leon. SEASON: 2 games, 2 starts

Michael Orozco Fiscal, D, Puebla -- Started, played 90 minutes in Puebla's 1-1 draw with Toluca. SEASON: 2 games, 2 starts

Greg Garza, D/M, Tijuana - Not in the 18 for Tijuana's 1-0 win over Leon. SEASON: 0 games

Herculez Gomez, F, Santos Laguna - Started, played 89 minutes in Santos Laguna's 2-0 win over Chivas de Guadalajara on Friday. SEASON: 2 games, 2 starts, 1 goal

Benji Joya, M, Santos Laguna - Not in the 18 for Santos Laguna's 2-0 win over Chivas de Guadalajara. SEASON: 0 games

Jose Torres, M, Tigres UANL - Not in the 18 for Tigres' 3-1 win over Atlante. SEASON: 1 game, 1 start

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