U.S. Men's National Team midfielder Stuart Holden made Saturday a day to remember, earning his first cap and scoring the second goal in the USA's 4-0 win against Grenada. Holden was slated to make his debut in January, but an injury setback meant he had to wait, work hard and stay positive as he sought to take the field for the U.S. On Saturday, that dream came true and we asked Holden about the experience and the team's preparations for the next game in the tournament
ussoccer.com: It's been a few days since Saturday's game but obviously the excitement of making your first appearance for the U.S. must still be there. How does it feel to be a capped U.S. international?
Stuart Holden: “I was just excited that I'd made my first cap. I'd come close a couple times and to be injury free and fit, I was just so excited to represent the U.S. on the Fourth of July. I was just hoping that we could open the tournament with a win, and that things would go well and they did.”
ussoccer.com: When does it hit you: “Hey, I'm about to step on the field for the U.S. National Team?"
SH: “For me it kind of kicks in first when you walk in the stadium, but also when you walk out with the starting lineup. You put on the jersey and you walk into the stadium with the FIFA anthem and you see the sea of U.S. fans and USA jerseys. Then, obviously, standing in line for the national anthem and putting the hand over the heart just knowing that you're representing the United States of America. All these people - whether they are Dynamo fans, Galaxy fans, whatever - everybody is kind of behind you supporting you as a whole.”
ussoccer.com: You became one of many players in U.S. history to score a goal in their first international appearance. Could you have written the script any better?
SH: “Anytime you're on the field you want to contribute. For me, being the first cap, it was kind of special, and then to get my first goal was overwhelming. I didn't really know how to celebrate. Looking back on it I was so excited to score and to help the team get the victory. Anytime I'm playing I want to make a good impression, and when you score that helps. It was kind of a similar feeling to scoring a goal in Beijing last summer. When you're running away from the goal, you realize what you've done. You've just scored for your country and that's one of the greatest feelings I've had.”
ussoccer.com: Your father, who was an important part of your life, passed away earlier this year. You must have been thinking about him throughout the memorable day on Saturday.
SH: “My dad has been my biggest fan since I was born and he was really excited to see me represent the U.S. I was close in January and the injury set me back. My mom watched the game from England and it was the first text she sent me. She texted me and said ‘Your dad would be smiling down on you, so proud of you.’ That is so special, and this whole year I feel like I've had just an extra hand helping me along. Since he passed away in February, soccer has really kept me going and kept me working hard. I just know that wherever he is now I'm making him proud and if he could have been there he'd have been jumping up and down going crazy for me.”
ussoccer.com: You mentioned the camp in January. You were in that camp and went the whole month without incident until a late injury meant you had to be scratched from the game day roster. After putting in so much work, how did you deal with that let down before the game against Sweden?
SH: “It was frustrating to say the least. I had rehabbed from an injury prior to coming in to January camp and gotten through the whole month with all the fitness. We put up a lot of hard work as a group and I felt like I put in a lot of hard work personally as well. The game at the end is the reward, and as a soccer player you live for that. The training is all in preparation for the games and not being able to play was really disappointing. I really wanted to make my first cap and I've been dreaming of that since I was a little kid. It was a minor setback in the end because I knew that if I kept working hard with Houston, more opportunities would come. I think the way it's worked out has worked out well.”
ussoccer.com: That must have only added to the motivation to get back into a position where you'd be able to make your first appearance for the national team...
SH: “I've had a number of setbacks in my career and I've always maintained that same belief and the same desire. The motivation has only got stronger and the more you get knocked back, the more you want to work hard and motivate yourself to get even further than you've been. It was definitely motivation to rehab from that injury and get back into the mix with the national team because that's been a goal of mine. I want to be at the World Cup and the Gold Cup is the start of that process for me.”
ussoccer.com: As with all of the guys here, you watched the U.S. team do well during the Confederations Cup in South Africa. What did you take away from seeing the tournament in South Africa?
SH: “For me, I was overjoyed for the guys and how well they did. Being in the U.S., it was great to see how the country rallied around them. Everybody was talking about soccer and for me it was great to see. I wish we could have won the tournament, but I think the noise that our team made showed that we can compete at that level. I think it's a good springboard for U.S. soccer. It creates more interest and more buzz and it can only be better for us in the future.”
ussoccer.com: Obviously a performance like that must give you motivation to want to be a part of a group that competes on a stage like that...
SH: “You want to be part of something that is special, and I think this group has that. Any time you're in with the full team there's always a special feeling around the group. We really believe in ourselves and who knows where it can take us. Hopefully all this hard work that's been going on the last few years can pay off in the World Cup.”
ussoccer.com: Now, after a good win on Saturday, these next few days are all about the quick turnaround and preparations for Wednesday's game...
SH: “It's just focus and that's all part of being a good professional. You need to know how to treat your body to get a ready for the quick turnarounds and take these games really seriously. The Gold Cup is a big tournament and it's a big chance for some of us to showcase what we can do and hopefully push ourselves into that team going forward into World Cup qualifiers.”
ussoccer.com: Honduras is always a popular draw here, and Wednesday's game should be an exciting event. As a team you must be keen to build on Saturday's win to open the Gold Cup…
SH: “You always love playing in those atmospheres where there are lots of people and two different styles going against each other. I'd imagine it will be pretty similar to the Chicago game [from June], which was mostly Honduran fans. That'll be a lot of fun. RFK is a good stadium with a nice pitch that will allow us to knock the ball around. I'm really looking forward to a good night against a team that is a quality side in CONCACAF. We want to keep this momentum going that we started in the first game.”