By ADAM SERRANO
Galaxy rookie Michael Stephens knows he has a lot to live up to.
The Los Angeles Galaxy are well known for developing top level rookie talent. Their past two first-round picks, defenders Sean Franklin and Omar Gonzalez, won the MLS Rookie of the Year award under the tutelage of Bruce Arena. Based on his pre-season performances to date, Stephens could make it a third straight rookie award winner for the Galaxy.
Stephens has looked dynamic during the preseason, providing a creative spark that could help him earn an important role with the defending Western Conference champions.
"The Galaxy are a team with a lot of history, but being around LA during the past few years (with UCLA) helps me adjust to playing on this team," said Stephens. "I've made some good strides, but there are things that I need to work on adjusting to the speed of play and the physicality of MLS, which is very different than the college game. But all the guys here have been a great help in allowing me to feel comfortable in this environment."
Stephens was responsible for setting up Chris Birchall's goal that allowed the Galaxy to defeat Costa Rican club Puntarenas in a recent friendly. He also earned a pair goals in a scrimmage against his Alma mater early in the preseason. The play of the rookie has done enough to allow him to earn the attention of his more established teammates.
"Some young players think that they have it all figured out and then you see the other ones who know will succeed who come in wanting to learn and be around the guys and that's Mike Stephens," said midfielder Chris Klein. " On the field he's technically very good, he's listened and really picked up a lot in a few short months."
The growth of Stephens as well as the development of the Los Angeles Galaxy's youth movement can be attributed to Arena. In just a few short years, the club has gone from a team flush with veterans to a club with a solid youth core. Klein who has seen the Galaxy's transformation has been incredibly impressed as the team's development.
"It's really drafting the young players and who you surround them with. We've had a lot of veteran guys who have been around the league and don't mind helping a young guy out," said Klein. "When you have that and you combine it with the mentality of a youth player then you're going to have a good combination."
Despite the litany of options in the midfield, which includes captain Landon Donovan, the possibilities exist for the midfielder to earn time with the Galaxy. The main reason for this is the versatility of Stephens, who can play a host of positions in the midfield. Throughout the preseason Stephens has played in the center of the field, but has also seen some time on the flanks for the club.
"At one time, Coach Arena and I spoke about putting me on the wings, but in every scrimmage I've been placed in the center of the midfield," said Stephens. "All I want to do is get playing time and I really feel like playing in the center of the field is where I can make the biggest impact."
With only a few weeks left in training camp before the start of the season, the young midfielder is set to do his part to help the Galaxy resume their winning ways.
"Playing time is up to the coach, but I've got to do my part to help us win games. I'm in the mix for time here and I just need to get some good time on the field and everything will work out."