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Midfield absences present qualifying chance for Stu Holden

Michael Regan

Last Friday night, the United States Men's National Team held a 1-0 lead at Jamaica's national stadium, known as the Office, until the 88th minute before Jermaine Beckford, arguably in an offside possession after having pushed off his mark, nodded home Jamaica's equalizer. The United States fought back and Brad Evans became the unlikely hero at the death, hitting the winning goal on the turn as he was falling. Stu Holden watched from the bench before joining in the dogpile to celebrate three hard-fought points on the road.

In that match, central midfielder Jermaine Jones was forced to leave early, having suffered a concussion. He was replaced by versatile-defender-playing-as-defensive-midfielder Geoff Cameron. As a result of the injury, Jones is being held out of the United States' home qualifying match against Panama in Seattle on Tuesday night.

The concussion was not the end of the Americans' worries for the Panama clash as they will also be forced to play without midfielder Graham Zusi, who will be suspended for yellow card accumulation. Zusi, who assisted both of Jozy Altidore's goals in the Yanks' last two games, can play in either an a central midfield role or out wide, which is his position in Jurgen Klinsmann's US side.

The Americans' opponents on Tuesday night, Panama, sit fourth place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal qualifying group, a point back of the States. They will be without arguably their most potent attacking threat in Blas Perez, thus handing the US a bit of leeway.

It is that little bit of leeway, coupled with the aforementioned absences, that could see Stuart Holden see playing time in a meaningful international match. AS Roma's Michael Bradley is sure to start in the center of the park for the Americans, that much is for sure. It's those two spots that Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi are leaving open that are the questions. Geoff Cameron could once again slot in for Jones while Sacha Kljestan and Joe Corona also remain as options for the central midfield role.

Out wide is where Klinsmann team lacks (and always has lacked) depth. That is where Holden comes into the mix. While a wide position isn't exactly his natural role, it's not as though he hasn't played there. Stu has taken up the wing role for both the United States Men's National Team in the past and played there on a few occasions while on loan at Sheffield Wednesday last season. There is no doubt that Holden would be raring to go.

That said, the playing surface in at Seattle's CenturyLink Field has not been well received. Michael Bradley put it kindly when he told the press at a national team training session that "Seattle certainly deserves a game, but I think the field, unfortunately, leaves a lot to be desired." For the World Cup Qualifiers, US Soccer demanded a natural grass surface as opposed to the artificial turf currently on the ground at the ground the Seattle Sounders call home. That has resulted in plates placed on top of the turf with grass rolled over that. The field, per NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk writer Richard Farley, has "ridges," providing worry for someone with Holden's injury history.


Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl provided a better view of the surface's total makeup.

Whether or not Holden actually sees the field is far from decided but Tuesday night's match against Panama is arguably his best chance ahead of this summer's Gold Cup. Should Holden make the final US Squad for that tournament and should the US reach the final, the midfielder will miss the vast majority of Bolton's pre-season. This is based on the assumption that Klinsmann goes with the 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 that he has been using of late. Jurgen's options could also see the American men move to a 4-2-3-1 or similar.