Stephens in the mix for Rookie of the Year

In his first season out of UCLA, Michael Stephens has played a starring role in the Galaxy midf

Michael Stephens in a game vs San Jose

Photo Credit: 
German Alegria

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CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy boasts the
last two MLS rookies of the year in defenders Sean Franklin and Omar Gonzalez.
Don’t be surprised if the club gets a third honoree this season.

Midfielder Michael Stephens,
a first round pick (16th overall) out of UCLA in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, has
been a model of consistency with 17 starts and 21 appearances. He has one goal
(a game-winner against the Columbus Crew on May 29) and seven assists
(including three game-winners), which rank second on the Galaxy only to Landon
Donovan’s league-high 11.

Head coach Bruce Arena said
the 21-year-old has exceeded his expectations as the Galaxy prepared for
Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Wizards at The Home Depot Center.

“I think anytime you have a
first-year player in the league playing a lot of minutes it’s more than a
pleasant surprise,” Arena said. “We knew Mike well obviously from his days at
UCLA. You just have to get a player into your environment and see what he’s
like day in and day out. We suspected he was going to be a good player and he’s
played probably more than we anticipated.”

Stephens’ name continues to
be mentioned along with some of the league’s other top rookies, including
Philadelphia’s Danny Mwanga, New England’s Zack Schilawski, D.C. United’s Andy
Najar and New York’s Tim Ream. But is Stephens a viable candidate for the
Rookie of the Year award?

His teammates definitely
think so.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise
to anyone to see him get it,” Chris Birchall said.

Mike Magee, who has known
Stephens for 10 years from their time growing up in Chicago, agreed.

“One hundred percent,” he
said. “I’ve known what kind of guy he is and what kind of player he is. For him
to come in right away and do what he’s done is pretty freakish.

“It’s a good time for him.”

Stephens said the season has
progressed exactly how he had hoped.

“Coming into the season my
first goal was to get playing time,” he said. “You never know what’s going to
happen when you go into a new environment, especially such a big jump from
college to the professional game, but I’ve worked hard and prepared myself very
well and I’m happy with where I’m at right now.”

ON THE VERGE

After failing to find the
back of the net in either of the Galaxy’s last two games, Landon Donovan
remains one goal away from tying Cobi Jones for the most regular season goals
in Galaxy history.

Jones, now an assistant
coach with the club, had 70 goals in his 12-year Galaxy career which ended
after the 2007 season. Donovan has

69 goals since joining the
club in 2005, with a season high of 20 goals in 2008. Including the postseason,
both players have scored 76 goals for the Galaxy; while Donovan is the club’s
all-time leader with 87 goals (to Jones’ 82) when including Champions
League/Champions Cup, SuperLiga and U.S. Open Cup matches.

The magnitude of the honor
was not lost on the Galaxy captain.

“This is the team that I
followed when I was old enough to realize what Major League Soccer was and Cobi
was the player that I admired and followed more than any other, so to have the
opportunity to join him for a prestigious honor like this, and hopefully pass
him is something that I would be very proud of,” he said. “And since he is
around all the time I’ll be sure to remind him of it.”

THEY’RE BACK

Defenders Todd Dunivant and forward
Tristan Bowen were back in training this week and are expected to be available
for Saturday’s game. Dunivant missed the last two games with neck and back
spasms while Bowen missed Saturday’s loss at San Jose with flu-like symptoms.

It has been an especially
painful time for Dunivant, who had started every game this season at left back
before missing the Galaxy’s game in New York
on Aug. 14 and last Saturday’s game in San
Jose. Dunivant said he first hurt his neck in a
CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round game in Puerto
Rico when he felt a sharp pain down his back while going up for a
header.

“I had a rib out of place
and I couldn’t breathe the last two weeks,” he said. “I had a little bit
of it before the (Real) Madrid
game but I kind of played through it. It finally got to the point where it was
so bad I could hardly lay down.

“Something like this makes
you appreciate your health. You take it for granted sometimes, but it’s our livelihood
and if you don’t have it, it makes all the difference in the world. It was
difficult watching the two games.”

Bowen, who said he first
started to feel weak the day of the flight home from New York, is confident the worst is behind
him.

“I still have a little
shortness of breath,” he said, “but you just have to keep going at it. I
haven’t been sick in about six or seven months. I guess it just caught up with
me.”

While those two are expected
to be back in the squad Saturday against the Wizards, Gregg Berhalter will
likely miss his second straight game because of a virus. Berhalter made his
2010 debut against the Wizards on April 24 after missing the first four games
of the season because of a left knee injury.

He will be joined on the
sidelines by David Beckham, who will be eligible to be removed from the
Disabled List after Saturday’s game.