With the confetti raining down over the podium, the United States Men's National team held the Gold Cup trophy high in the air, bouncing as the celebrations began. The Gold Cup, a biennial tournament, had been dominated by Mexico in recent years with the US losing to their continental rivals in the previous pair of finals. A woeful Mexico had been knocked out by the Americans' opponents, Panama, on Wednesday, setting up a tough test for the Yanks in Chicago.
The lone goal in the match came from Brek Shea some 40 seconds after being introduced for Joe Corona on the left flank. The ball crossed in from the right flank was scuffed by Landon Donovan who tried to sidefoot it first time but rolled directly into Shea's path, leaving the Stoke City winger to tap in from close range. The Yanks withheld a late Panama surge and a few near chances to win their first trophy in six years and the first in Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure as US boss.
The match didn't feel right after the 18th minute though with Stu Holden's tournament coming to a premature end. The Bolton Wanderers midfielder, who had famously missed over two years following a knee injury sustained at the studs of Manchester United's Jonny Evans in March 2011, had made the Gold Cup his comeback tour. The resilient box-to-box man had played in four of five possible matches prior to the final, racking up a valuable 282 minutes (70.5/game average) on what should have been a springboard into the Championship season.
Unfortunately, Holden would go down with less than 20 minutes on the clock after knocking his left knee, the one that was injured in the Jonny Evans tackle, with Quintero's right. It wasn't that knee that gave Stu issues on the day, it was his right, the one that had not been previously injured. Holden went down holding the previously unhurt knee and the physios were on right away, doing ligament tests on the Bolton man, who would later walk off on his own power.
Speaking to ESPN's Doug McIntyre after the match for an ESPNFC piece, LA Galaxy central defender Omar Gonzalez described the view from the bench:
"When they started doing the knee checks, that's when you really started to think it could be something bad.
"Just the face he had on was upsetting and very sad to see."
Right after the injury, US and Rapid Vienna forward, Terrance Boyd tweeted:
Terrence Boyd (@TBoyd91) July 28, 2013
Landon Donovan added after the match:
"He's the soul of this team. We're bummed for him."
The word from the US Soccer locker room was that the injury was a sprained knee with further evaluation to be done after the fact. Holden came out after the final whistle with the rest of the team, first being carried on Omar Gonzalez' back before limping onto the podium and bouncing a little bit with the rest of the team.
Perhaps the grimmest statement came from US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who discussed the situation in the post-match press conference, per McIntyre's ESPN story:
"It looks like a very serious knee injury. I'm not a doctor, I can't confirm it. Hopefully tomorrow things look better [when he'll] go to get an MRI and get all the tests done, but Stuey is a player that when something happens, he knows something happened. Hopefully it's not that bad, but it's not looking good right now."
United States and Bolton Wanderers fans await the results of the MRI with fingers crossed for the best possible news.