DeLaGarza, Perk and Stephens report for Galaxy preseason camp

International trio back with MLS champs

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CARSON, Calif. – A.J. DeLaGarza and Michael Stephens were in for a bit of a shock when they reported for their first preseason Galaxy practice Monday.

DeLaGarza, entering his fourth year with LA, and Stephens, now in his third season with the club, were stunned at the number of new faces in the locker room.

“I felt like one of the new guys,” said DeLaGarza, who had been gone for four weeks while he trained with the U.S. National Team, for which he picked up his first two caps in recent friendlies against Venezuela and Panama. “We have a little bit of a different team; a lot of guys are missing right now.”

Gone are the likes of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, who currently are on loan with Everton and Aston Villa, respectively, of the English Premier League. Central defender Omar Gonzalez, the 2011 MLS Defender of the Year, is out for an indefinite period after undergoing major knee surgery. Midfielder Juninho returned to his club in Sao Paolo, midfielder Chris Birchall is out of contract and goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was traded to Montreal.

Stephens, who had been training with the Under-23 National Team, also said he was taken aback by the number of new faces on the defending MLS Cup champions.

READ: Michael Stephens named to U.S. Under-23 National Team

“You don’t recognize more than you know,” he said. “I’m sure it will take a few days to get everybody’s name down, but everybody seems cool out here the first day.”

Goalkeeper Brian Perk was another member of the Galaxy making his first training appearance of the preseason Monday. He also had been with the U-23’s.

READ: Brian Perk added to U.S. Under-23 National Team

Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said he was glad to have the trio back in camp.

“It’s certainly good to bring back our players with a little bit more experience,” he said. “They’re probably a little bit ahead of our group fitness-wise. Two weeks, three weeks in those camps is a plus, but it doesn’t change them a whole lot as players.

“We know what they do well.”

DeLaGarza said his experience with the National Team, which included three-a-day workouts, did wonders not only for his conditioning but his confidence.

READ: DeLaGarza adjusting to split role on US back line

“It made me a better player, and hopefully it helped get me ready for this season,” he said. “It was tough, but it was a great experience. Just a great opportunity to play; I can’t complain about the chances I had.”

Stephens said the U-23 camp was particularly beneficial from a technical standpoint and helped improve his skills with the ball. He believes that will benefit him this season, a year which he feels will be much better than a year ago, when he appeared in 33 games in all competitions and started 12 regular season games.

“I think it’s going to be a big year for me,” he said. “Obviously losing Juninho hurts, and I don’t know what’s up with Birchall. He’s not here right now.

“There’s going to be a lot of opportunities, and I want to take as many of them as I can and have a better year than last year and get more playing time than last year. I’m definitely ready to go.”