WILMINGTON, Del. -- Stuart Holden's face is turning purple. Below the carefully cultivated dark-blond hair with trademark frosted tips, which often gets him mistaken for '90s teenybopper Aaron Carter, his small features crunch up.
The Bolton and U.S. midfielder is laying on his side, getting his healing left knee worked on by longtime U.S. national team physio James Hashimoto in his Elite PT practice. (Don't be fooled by the name; it's an unpretentious place, stowed away in the basement of an inconspicuous community center on the outskirts of town.) "I'll send a picture of my T-shirt to Nigel de Jong," Holden jokes in between stretches, smiling through the strain. Marked Man, reads the shirt, which was white until he spilled coffee on it earlier in the morning.
Stuart Holden, working with U.S. national team physio James Hashimoto. "I'll send a picture of my T-shirt to Nigel de Jong," Holden jokes, in reference to the "Marked Man" design.
Dozens of U.S. players have made the same agonized faces on this very massage table during rehab sessions with the affable Hash (rhymes with "posh," not "dash") -- Brian McBride, Ernie Stewart, Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos, Oguchi Onyewu, Tony Meola: all the big ones. "I don't think I'd make it into that team," Holden cracks again.
"Coming here is like a bucket list thing for these guys," says Hashimoto, a stocky man with a tight buzz cut and a loose smile. But Hash can't think of anyone other than Cory Gibbs who has spent more time here than Holden, 26, has.
Consider the evidence: torn meniscus as a junior in high school; fractured eye socket after an unprovoked punch-up while at Sunderland; broken ankle in a bad tackle during a trial at Leicester City; a Bolton Wanderers trial parlayed into a man-of-the-match EPL debut just days before a Nigel de Jong-induced broken leg during a U.S.-Netherlands friendly; his splendid 2010-11 season -- in which The Guardian's readers rated him the best player of the season's first half and he was named Bolton's player of the year -- was ended by a freak collision with Jonny Evans, one of whose cleats got caught in and broke Holden's left knee; a 90-minute man-of-the-match outing against Aston Villa that revealed acute cartilage damage and yet another long recovery.
This is Holden's third rehab stint in Delaware, all within a year, totaling almost five months of daily exercises split up into two three-hour sessions that are monotonous at best, excruciating at worst. (Sometimes he follows them up with a third workout on his own.) He'll be there another month at least and is unlikely to play another game this season. Hash and Holden are loath to set a timetable for the player's return, as recovery from a cartilage injury is unpredictable. So yes, the two men have seen much more of each other than either would like, no matter how fond they are of each other. "Other patients say we're like an old married couple," says Holden, who jokes that he'll help Hash cut the umbilical cord when his wife delivers their first baby in a few days. At one point they bicker over where to go for dinner.
At least he still has a sense of humor. Read the whole thing.