Life is great… isn’t it? Sometimes, life works in just the right way. As I sat down to write my retirement letter, the final chapter of my 11-year career, my wife went into labor with our first child. (Heading to hospital, hold on for a second).
OK, I’m back. Labor can take a while, but it’s the perfect affirmation that I have made the right decision to hang up my boots. I couldn’t be more ready -- ready for the next chapter of my life, ready to wave goodbye to the pitch (the playing part, at least), but most of all, ready to embark on the most exciting journey yet, fatherhood.
As a father, I will face many of the same fears, challenges, and inevitable rewards I faced in my professional career. However, this time I will have a beautiful little girl and an amazing wife to share every moment.
But before we talk about the future, let’s discuss the current issue: retirement. It’s time to stop fighting my body. I’ve known for a while, but I’ve struggled to admit it to myself and to others. The countless sleepless nights, the aches and pains, and the constant mental battles were all signs pointing to a new path. But every time I was about to utter the three big words “I am retired”, all the memories of walking into roaring stadiums, scoring last-minute goals, and being part of amazing teams dragged me back! The same never-say-die attitude that drove me to fight like hell my entire career wouldn’t let me say the “R word”. I met every setback - and there were many - with a positive attitude. I responded to every disappointment with an “OK. What’s next?” Now, again, I must answer that question. What is next is being proud of my accomplishments, giving thanks to those who have supported me, and smiling at whatever the future holds, the first of which is a baby girl. (Quick update: We are now at the hospital and I should be a dad in the next few hours. My wife wants me to finish this letter quickly.)
So, let’s get started.
Item 1: Be proud. Certain memories are always at the front of my mind; representing the USA in the Olympics and a World Cup, two MLS Cup Championships with the Houston Dynamo, the last minute goal against Haiti, and how could I ever forget the pure elation of scoring the stoppage time winner for Bolton against Blackburn. Those are just a few of the moments I’ll be proud to bore my daughter with one day. However, those events didn’t shape me into the person I am today, and the father I am about to be. Those experiences came in the locker room with friends I was lucky enough to call my teammates and coaches.
Stu Holden and former MNT teammate Jay DeMerit prepare to board the flight to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Item 2: Be thankful. Thank you, thank you, thank you to every single person who pushed me every day to be a better player and a better man, for giving me that extra motivation to keep fighting when I needed it, but most importantly, for the memories and ever lasting friendships. To the fans, thank you. Your support has never gone unnoticed and you've had a bigger impact on my life than you’ll ever know. All of the messages, tweets, songs, and passion for the beautiful game have left me humbled and forever grateful. To Bolton Wanderers and the Houston Dynamo, you welcomed me to the family and for that I am forever thankful. Now it's my turn to be a fan. To my loving family: Mom, Euan, Rachel and late father, Brian, I’ll be thanking you until my last day on this earth. I played for you, and none of this would have been possible without your love, support and commitment through all the years. I love you with all of my heart. To my wife, Karalyn, the best is yet to come. You are my rock, my livelihood, and I will never be able to completely thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made to help me pursue my career. You will be an amazing mother to our child. I love you so much and you inspire me every day to be a better human. You are the reason I can accomplish …
Item 3: Smile at the future. Let’s do this!
Speaking of the future, I’m not exactly sure what it holds, but that is OK by me. I have a passion and love for the game of soccer that will never be replaced. (Just got punched in the arm by Karalyn as she gets a strong contraction, which is another reminder that a possible replacement is coming.) But the reality is, soccer cannot truly be substituted because it was the first true love of my life. From a very young age, I poured my heart and soul into being the best I could be, and I kept the dream alive as long as I could. The game has rewarded me with a beautiful life and opportunities I never thought possible. The most recent opportunities will keep me in the game as a broadcaster, a coach, and maybe even as an owner one day. Who knows? Not me. What I do know is that I am 100% at peace with my decision to retire from playing, and I am 200% excited for the future. True closure has been hard to come by, but man it feels good.
It’s been one hell of a ride -- a ride that a wee lad from Aberdeen (that’s in Scotland for those who flunked geography) dreamt of, worked hard for, and made come true. One thing is for sure: you haven’t seen the end of me… but I might take a short break as the contractions are kicking my wife’s butt right now. That means it is time for Stuart Holden, the retired athlete and third-person self-referencer, to step up and deliver a life-winning assist! Child birth has just put all of my injuries into perspective. I now know that my wife is the real champ (and my Mom too)! Cheers to the release.
P.S. - As of 2:35 PM February 1st, 2016, I am officially a father to a beautiful baby girl, Kennady Rose Holden. Mom and Daughter are in great health and Dad is proud. Bring on parenthood.
Proud parents Stuart and Karalyn Holden with baby Kennady Rose.
The U.S. Men’s National Team rode a shock opening win against fourth-ranked Portugal, a draw against the host Korea Republic and a little help from the goalposts to advance to the Round of 16 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Finishing second in the group meant that the MNT would have less than three full days rest to turn around and face regional rivals Mexico in the highest stakes match the two nations had ever played. With little time to prepare, in some respects the U.S. was lucky to have drawn the team with which it was most familiar.
Despite the U.S. having won four of the previous five meetings, according to U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, when the team arrived at Jeonju World Cup Stadium that June afternoon, there wasn’t much respect shown from the opposition side.
“Before the game we walked out and we were walking around the field. We had this focus and concentration as a team as you do preparing for any game,” the former team captain told ussoccer.com. “I was with Eddie Lewis, Frankie Hejduk, Gregg Berhalter and Earnie Stewart and we were ready to go – we were foaming at the mouth for this game. We looked over and the Mexicans were laughing, joking and looking at us…That was it.”
Reyna called the team over to quickly finish their pre-game pitch inspection and head back into the locker room.
“We sort of wanted the game to start, we were so ready to go,” he continued. “Back in the locker room, I remember saying, ‘These guys are laughing at us. They think they’re going to beat us easily.’”
Mexico had done efficient work to get to that point. Having finished with seven points atop a group that featured Italy, Croatia and Ecuador, El Tri’s run to the Round of 16 had the side brimming with self-assurance ahead of the match.
“They were feeling confident, but the lack of respect they showed was clear – you never do that,” said Reyna. “I would never do that in my career, even if I felt really comfortable about beating an opponent. That you’d be giggling, laughing and joking at the opponent. It was pretty clear that it was directed at us and at some of our players, and obviously we play them all the time so there’s that rivalry.”
“I remember saying, ‘We’re not losing this game guys.’ Everyone went around and you could feel it all the way through that we couldn’t wait to get out there.”
Reyna gets past Ramon Morales in the most famous "Dos a Cero" in Men's National Team history.
Injuries and suspensions limited the U.S. options, and Bruce Arena used the uncertainty to confound the Mexicans by deploying a 3-5-2 formation for the match. The switch saw Reyna move from his regular central midfield position to the right flank, with the move paying off almost immediately. Following an eighth minute foul in the Mexico half, Brian McBride quickly restarted as he saw Reyna pushing up the flank. The U.S. captain beat two defenders to the end line before centering for Josh Wolff, whose deft touch teed up McBride for a clinical finish and an equally gratifying goal celebration.
The goal set an early tone and played perfectly into Arena’s game plan, allowing the U.S. to sit in and pick its moments to counter against an increasingly frustrated Mexican side. Landon Donovan’s second- half header off an Eddie Lewis cross helped ice the game, giving the MNT its first ever World Cup knockout round win and a quarterfinal date with Germany.
“It was just a great team performance. To beat them 2-0, eliminate them and afterwards realize this was a big deal back in the States,” Reyna said.
The win raised the profile of the Men’s National Team more than any other since the 1994 FIFA World Cup, but in an age before social media, Reyna admitted the players didn’t realize how big an impact the victory had made.
“We didn’t know how huge it was at home,” he said. “We were in Korea and we knew it was sort of growing in momentum. I remember seeing some of the news clips from Mexico City where there were people in plazas and squares crying over the result – that felt good.”
U.S. supporters celebrate during the MNT's 2-0 win against Mexico at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Though the momentum was already building towards U.S. domination of the rivalry, the World Cup win tipped the scales. Since 2000, the MNT has held a 13-6-5 advantage against El Tri.
“From that moment on, it continued to be a real domination of Mexico,” Reyna said. “We went on and beat them all the time. That was the point where we felt we were no longer playing behind them, that we were better than them.”
“It was one big coming out party on the biggest stage.”Read more