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):