CARSON, Calif. – During the preseason there was a buzz surrounding the LA Galaxy's midfield, with a handful of new acquisitions leaving an early impression. The competition for starting spots grew tougher.
David Beckham, Chris Birchall and Juninho all had their spots locked down in the midfield, and Landon Donovan also featured. Throw in first-round draft pick Paolo Cardozo and fellow newcomer Miguel Lopez, and playing spots seemed scarce heading into last Tuesday's match at Qwest Field.
Still, a familiar face from the 2010 Galaxy midfield emerged in the season opener. Michael Stephens, the Galaxy’s top rookie from 2010, was a late-game substitute against the Sounders and helped put the clamps down on the Galaxy’s 1-0 road win.
Stephens might have extra competition in the midfield this year, but he knows he has an edge based on his experience during the Galaxy's run to the 2010 Supporters' Shield.
“It’s a pretty similar role to the way I started out last year, coming off the bench and trying to add a little to the games in the later part of the games,” Stephens said. “My mentality is a little bit better. I’m a little more comfortable with the team and I think I’m going to have a better year.”
After he was taken in the first round of the 2010 SuperDraft, Stephens did well for himself. He played 25 games and logged 1,884 minutes. He scored one goal and had eight assists, the second-highest number on the team.
There was room for improvement, however. Stephens was a first-choice player for a long stretch of the season but saw that change down the stretch. He rode the bench for a good portion of the fall and said he learned quite a bit from becoming a sub.
“Being smarter about the way I take care of myself," he said. "It’s a long year and you don’t want to push it every single day too hard, doing a lot of extra stuff every day, just being smart about picking your moments and taking good rest and being able to conserve your body for the whole season.”
Ultimately, though, Stephens said he just wants to be useful in 2011. Whether that means being a part of the team’s starting midfield or spotting players in the second half of matches, he just wants to contribute.
“Everyone wants to be in the starting lineup but coming in late in the games, I think I can do a good helping this team and bringing some good energy to games when people are getting tired,” Stephens said. “I want to contribute any way I can and whether it’s starting or coming into games late, whatever I can do to help my team.”