At the start of preseason, Galaxy rookie Michael Stephens figured his chances of playing in the regular-season opener weren’t great. After all, it’s not easy to walk into an established and successful club and make a name for yourself.
But Stephens persevered, did what he could with his opportunity and began to get noticed. By the time the regular season arrived, the young midfielder felt he had, too.
“As the week wore on, I wasn’t sure if I’d get my shot, but I was definitely in the mix to get on the bench,” Stephens said. “First of all ‘cause I was dressing. That’s the first step. When I saw I was on the 18, I knew all of us had a chance to play. Obviously you never know, it depends on what the game needs, but I prepared myself like I was going to go in.”
Stephens, the Galaxy’s first round pick in this year’s SuperDraft, made his professional debut when he replaced Juninho in the 80th minute of the Galaxy’s 1-0 win over New England.
Even though he came in late, Stephens had enough time to make and impact.
“I thought our young player Mike Stephens did well over the last 10 to 12 minutes to help us kill off the game,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said after last weekend’s match.
Stephens drew Arena’s praise for playing well, but when the soon-to-be 21-year-old stepped onto the field at Home Depot Center for the first time in an official match, he had something on his mind besides the task at hand.
“Nerves,” Stephens said. “I’d never played in front of that many people before.”
An announced crowd of more than 20,000 was on hand, and while not every seat in the stadium was filled the atmosphere was enough to give Stephens something to worry about.
Not having much time to incorporate himself into the game, Stephens nevertheless tried to relax the best way possible.
“Once I got out there and after a few runs and a few touches, I sat back and took a deep breath when the ball was out of play,” he said. “Whenever there was a stoppage I’d kind of gain myself and gain my composure a little bit. I started to feel more comfortable and it started to feel like any other game after that but there was definitely a lot of excitement and a lot of nerves.”
Another challenge in a year that promises to present many of them will come Thursday. Stephens will have the opportunity to step onto the field during what he considered was one of the greatest spectacles for local soccer fans.
A alum of UCLA, Stephens is more than familiar with the soccer scene in Southern California. At the heart of it he said is the SuperClasico.
“I think that’s the one game that all soccer fans in the LA area never want to miss,” he said. “Same was for me when I was at UCLA. I would always come. I came last year to at least one of them.”
Less than 12 months after taking in a Galaxy-Chivas USA match from the stands, he may not only be uniform for the game, but on the field and possibly playing an instrumental role in the outcome.
If Arena calls on Stephens for action against Chivas USA, whether it’s as a late-game substitute or a starter, the youngster should be ready, sans the first-game jitters.
“I’m excited to do it,” Stephens said. “I’ve always pictured it but I never imagined it coming true. Hopefully it does this Thursday.”