The editorial staff at MLSsoccer.com is looking back over the year with our "Best of 2010" awards, running Dec. 13 through Jan. 2. Each day we'll hand out an award from a variety of categories culled from the storylines of Major League Soccer and the North American soccer scene.
This time we're looking forward at the new year. And Stuart Holden is our pick for the US national team Breakout Player of 2011.
The year began with the Stuart Holden departing the Houston Dynamo for Bolton. It ended with the Scottish lad nabbing a remarkable goal to help his surprising Wanderers stay in the Europa League discussion.
In between, Holden found a spot on Owen Coyle's squad, had his leg broken by Nigel de Jong just as he was finding his feet in Bob Bradley's formation, returned to make the World Cup roster but played only four minutes, and became a fixture in the English Premier League. It was a busy breakthrough year for the 25-year-old.
[inline_node:323776]Holden's ability to fit in at Bolton isn't surprising - his Dynamo teammates called him "the Chameleon" - but just how good he has been is a bit of a shocker. No one expected this much, this quickly. When Holden is healthy, he plays 90 minutes and, more often than not, the Wanderers wander to victory. He's found a kindred spirit in Coyle, who infuses his charges with energy and enthusiasm.
It wasn't a perfect 12 months, however, as for all his club success Holden didn't make the impact he wanted on the national team level. He found himself stuck behind Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, and Maurice Edu in the center of the field, and Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey on the wings. But how long can Bradley leave the Aberdeen native on the bench if he continues to shine in the world's toughest league? He's too talented to stay on the sideline for much longer; Holden can facilitate the attack during the run of play, serve in effective crosses, and be deadly on free kicks.
In '10, Holden showed what he can do in the EPL; next campaign, the man who made his Stars and Stripes debut during the 2009 Gold Cup will shine for the Americans as well.
2. Maurice Edu - Plenty of people believe the US would have beaten Ghana if the Rangers midfielder started over Ricardo Clark (and they may not be incorrect). But can he find time in '11 given the rise of Holden?
3. Clarence Goodson - At the start of 2010, Goodson wasn’t even in the center back discussion. As the year ends, he's arguably Bradley's No. 1 choice.