Stuart is the kind of guy everybody wants on their team. His energy is infectious. His razor-sharp banter keeps the mood light, but his work ethic and talent makes your team better.
When I first started playing in the UK, I hadn't played yet for the National Team and didn't know much about him other than he was an American playing for Bolton. I remember reading the paper one Sunday morning and there was an article about him on the front page of The Guardian, telling the masses of the football world that based on his stats so far that season he was the most complete player in the entire Premier League. I immediately had respect for the man.
Not long after, I started getting called into National Team camps, and Stu and I hit it off from the start. I'm not sure if it was our mutual liking of singing Justin Bieber songs together, or if it was our mutual liking that it annoyed the hell out of everyone. Either way, it wasn't a surprise that we became roommates.
In 2010, the World Cup loomed in the distance and we were both in battles with our fitness, as I was just coming off a corneal transplant surgery on my eye and Stu had just broken a bone in his knee against the Netherlands in Amsterdam. We talked a lot about what it would be like to be named to the cup squad later that summer, and talked about the mental and physical battles we were going through just to give ourselves a chance. In all of our conversations, we always talked about the positives and schemed about our plans to make sure we were going to be named to that roster. The roomies made it.
In South Africa, we had an isolated hotel just for our team, so there wasn't much social interaction. Our room number was 214, so we promptly turned it into what we called "Studio 214" where we spent countless hours making up chants and songs about our teammates that we would introduce to the team each day on the bus ride home from training. By the end of it, we had song sheets printed out with numerous songs about Landon's hair line, my wonky eye, and Brad Guzan's missing tooth, amongst others :)
Stu was at the forefront, making sure everyone knew the cues to when we would start the songs and get the bus erupting with the lyrics and laughter. After we beat Algeria on the last kick of the game to win our group, our bus arrived back at the hotel to find the whole hotel staff outside the lobby doing a choreographed song and dance to greet us in celebration. Stu immediately got off the bus with a vuvuzela and joined in on the routine with the hotel staff, blowing on that thing like he was one of the fans in the stands for our game. Although we didn't get past Ghana in the next round, Studio 214 had firmly made its mark on the tournament.
I only had a few more games on the National Team after that, and Stu continued to battle injuries. But every time I talked to him, his positive attitude always rang through. His infectious energy was still a catalyst to keep trying, and even just a few weeks ago when his decision still hadn't been made to retire, his burning determination to join the National Team one last time to see if he still had it in him was still there.
His ability over the last few years to keep battling and keep smiling is something that has never ceased to amaze me, and no doubt will serve him well in the future.
I'm truly excited to see what's next for you, Stu. You have a new addition to the family now to look forward to, and I see nothing but more success in front of you. Why? Because you will still be the guy that everyone wants on their team. And to think, you won't ever have to hear "He's stronggg, he's fassst, his knees are made of glasss! Stuuu Holllden", from opposing fans ever again :))