By Kevin Koczwara
Stuart Holden made the jump from Major League Soccer to the English Premier League last year. Holden decided to let his contract with the Houston Dynamo run out and was given a tryout with the Bolton Wanderers by the club’s new manager, Owen Coyle Coyle liked what he saw from the blond haired midfielder.
Holden signed with the club and hasn’t looked back since.
A leg break in an international friendly slowed down Holden’s progress last season. The tackle by Nigel de Jong of the Netherlands in a World Cup warm up game for Holden and the U.S. Men’s National Team looked to push Holden out of Bob Bradley’s plans for the World Cup in South Africa. But the Aberdeen, Scotland native made leaps of progress and was able to slot himself in the 23-man roster for South Africa.
Since returning from South Africa, where Holden had extremely limited playing time, Holden has been one of the Premier League’s best midfielders and part of the reason why Bolton has ascended to new heights this year under Coyle.
In 14 Premier league appearances, Holden has become one of the best tacklers in the league. Currently third in tackles won, Holden has reinvented himself into a hard-working, box-to-box type midfielder who can attack from the wing, or shift in centrally to give his side a little grit and pace in central midfield. His looks might be what made me think he was never really a tackler, and more of a skill player, but he proved me wrong this season by becoming one of the best at controlling the tempo of a game with his ability to tackle. With zero yellow cards and red cards, Holden has shown he can tackle, and impose his will on a midfield without fouling an opponent or causing controversy like other notable tacklers in the league.
Looking over the Premier League season so far, Holden’s performance against Wolverhampton on November 11 really stands out.
The American set up one of Bolton’s goals and scored another. On top of that, Holden only lost a tackle once in the game and won seven of his own. His dominance in the midfield wasn’t limited to his tackling ability. Holden attacked the Wolverhampton defenders and helped establish Bolton’s attack with his passing and crosses. His pass chart chalkboard shows how Holden getting wide, into space and his ability to get crosses and passes into the box as well as his ambition going forward — much of his passing pushed Bolton towards Wolves’ net rather than stagnating the attack and passing the ball backwards.
Holden’s ability on the field and his determination off the field should be the catalysts for his success in the Premier league for the rest of this season, and for more to come. Owen Coyle found a gem with the American midfielder, and will do well to hold on to him when bigger clubs come calling.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.