Where does Stuart Holden fit in? 

January, 16, 2013

Quite understandably, the subject of Stuart Holden's return to the U.S. national team has been spoken about solemnly and in hushed tones since the one-time Premier League star underwent a second surgery on his rebuilt knee in September 2011.

Holden already had been sidelined six months, so when doctors determined that he'd be out just as long again -- much longer, as it turned out -- following the setback, the automatic defense mechanism for U.S. fans was to stop scribbling the immensely popular midfielder's name into their dream starting lineups.

Sixteen months later, United States backers can pick up their pencils again after Holden played the final 16 minutes of Bolton's 2-0 FA Cup win Tuesday against Sunderland. Because as soon as he stepped onto the field, Holden inevitably became part of the national team conversation again.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.