Stuart Holden's trial with Bolton appears to be progressing nicely. Rumors insist that newly-installed Owen Coyle is ready to hand Holden a contract with Bolton. But is Bolton Holden's best option?
Holden was originally slated to have a trial with Burnley while Coyle was in charge there. But when Coyle took up post at Bolton, a trial was quickly arranged and Holden crossed Lancashire to join up with Coyle at Bolton.
Bolton has a deep midfield, if lacking in big names. And in the midst of a relegation battle, Coyle is going to be reluctant to take any sorts of gambles with personnel. Coyle has already said that Holden needs to prove that he is an improvement over what players are presently in the squad.
At 24 years old and a substitute on the U.S. Nation Team squad, Holden is not likely to be head and shoulders better than the midfield in place at Bolton. Or at least his pedigree is likely to let him down.
Although time under Coyle and in a league as strong as the Premier League will ultimately improve Holden, if his ambition is to break into the U.S. first team for the World Cup, Bolton might not be the best solution at the moment.
With the club in the midst of a relegation battle, Holden not playing for more than two months and having to make the adjustment from the competition level in the MLS to one of the strongest leagues in the world, Holden wouldn't seem too likely to see substantial playing time.
A look back to a compatriot with similar stateside hype is Clint Dempsey. Dempsey had a higher global profile after his impressive form at the World Cup in 2006 but was regarded similarly as Holden is now. Dempsey joined Fulham in January 2007 and found himself in the midst of a relegation battle. That season Dempsey made 10 appearances for Fulham, starting just once.
Not to say that these situations are identical, but it's about the closest thing to Holden's present situation in recent memory. Is 10 appearances between the end of January and the beginning of May going to be enough time for Holden to force his way into the U.S. side?
If Holden's goal is to be a contributing member for the U.S. in South Africa, he needs to make sure that he's playing for a club that is going to get him regular time. Although Bolton would be a good option long term, his World Cup prospects would likely suffer.
There are rumors that Rangers and Aberdeen have expressed interest in Holden. Although the Scottish Premier League is not as strong as it once was, it presents a good opportunity for American players looking to make their move to Europe.
The physicality of the Scottish game isn't lost on American players and the decline in quality leaves more opportunities for players to make an immediate impact and earn time. Maurice Edu and DaMarcus Beasley's inclusions in the Rangers sides when healthy is an indication of where the quality of American internationals slots into the SPL.
Although the quality is not what it once was, Scotland presents arguably the best opportunity for young American players like Holden. Rather than stay in the MLS for another year to develop and get regular playing time, the Scotland opportunity proves Holden the chance to learn the game properly.
There is a reason many of the European-based regulars who get regular time come back to the U.S. improved. It's learning to play the game the way it was meant to be played. From coaches who grew up understanding the game, and playing alongside players who have that same background.
If Holden can earn regular playing time under Coyle at Bolton, then it's likely his best option. But if he can't, which is a very real possibility, then a return to Scotland (where Holden was born) seems the best situation for Holden's short and long term career.