SANDY, Utah — US national team midfielder Stuart Holden's 58th-minute goal against Belize on Tuesday capped an amazing comeback.
Nothing to do with the score, mind you — the US were already up 3-1 in an eventual 6-1 rout of the tiny Central American nation in their CONCACAF Gold Cup opener. But it marked the payoff of a long, personal journey for the talented 27-year-old with his first goal in a USMNT jersey in four years.
"It felt great to score again," Holden told reporters before training with the US on Thursday in preparation for their game against Cuba on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium (3:30 pm ET, Fox/Univision). "Just to get back on the score sheet, hopefully that can open up the floodgates a little bit and I can start getting in the box a little more."
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During the 2009 Gold Cup, Holden was a promising young talent and great things were expected of him. But injuries have sort of sidetracked his arrival. A broken leg in 2010 and a pair of knee surgeries later, he is once again ready to be counted on for the Americans.
WATCH: Holden's goal vs. Belize
"I've felt great for a while now," he said. "Anytime I'm asked about how it feels to be back, I consider myself back. I'm looking to get better than that. I want to keep pushing myself to higher standards and higher limits because as a player I want to improve every day, but as far as physically, I'm feeling really good."
It would have been easy for Holden to get down while he was fighting to recover. But that just isn't his style.
"I think Stu is just that type of guy," teammate Herculez Gomez told reporters on Thursday. "You can talk about marveling at his positivity, but that is just Stu. We all love Stu. I understand how frustrating it can be having those knee injuries, or any type of long-term injury, so to see him come back and to come back the way he has it's positive, but it is even more inspiring."
Said Holden of his recovery: "It was tough. I went through a lot of ups and downs. I still find myself looking at my phone and some of the clips from doing my rehab and thinking how far I've come. That really keeps it in perspective for me knowing that I'm here and I've done all the hard work and to really enjoy every day and every moment that comes from now."
Holden has come on as a second-half substitute in the US's last two games, but he says he's ready for more if needed.
WATCH: Holden talks to Best Soccer Show
"I'm ready to go 90 if called upon," Holden said. "[Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann] spoke to us before the last game and managing minutes with the artificial surface there and given our history with knee injuries.
"To come on in the second half and have an impact was something I wanted to do, and the team got a good result, a solid performance. Now, we really need to make sure we have a good performance against Cuba."
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Besides just playing well against Cuba and the rest of the Gold Cup, Holden is focused on making the US team for next year's World Cup in Brazil.
"It's a big goal for me," he said. "I really want to make sure when I leave here, I've had a good tournament, and then go back to my club and have a really solid year and put myself in a position to not only be on that team, but be a contributor for that team.
"I want to be playing. I want to push the guys in front of me. Michael [Bradley] and Jermaine [Jones] have been playing really well the last couple of years, especially the last month or so with the national team. You saw it with the qualifiers. It's made my job tough, but it is something that I sort of relish that challenge and I'm looking forward to it."