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.”
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.