Photo by Don Feria/ISIphotos.com
BY ADAM SERRANO
For Los Angeles Galaxy youngsters Michael Stephens and Tristan Bowen, the season has been something of a roller coaster.
The young duo have been key contributors to the Galaxy, with Bowen tallying two goals and an assist while Stephens has seven assist and a goal. However, as Los Angeles has descended into its current 1-3-1 slump, the contributions of the youngsters have also dipped. The rookies have failed to register a point since July 4th.
Despite the slip, Galaxy coaches believe a rebound is on the horizon.
"Mike has played and started in a lot more games than we all may have thought and his low points haven't been so low," said Galaxy assistant coach David Sarachan. "With Tristan's its been a bit of an overload not coming from a college environment, but for the most part our young guys have managed pretty well."
Stephens has been a revelation for the Galaxy, having appeared in a team-high 22 matches so far this season. In fact, the only match that Stephens has not appeared for the Galaxy during this season was last week's 1-1 draw against Chicago Fire.
Coming from the three-month college calendar to the eight month MLS schedule, the UCLA product states that there is a significant difference in terms of the physical demands.
"We've entered the home stretch of our season and with the playoffs, our season from here on in will still be longer than their season, " said Stephens. "It's crazy to think that they're just starting and we're supposedly on our home stretch, so its definitely been an adjustment."
Bowen represents a completely different type of youth player. Rather than coming in from college, the 19-year-old was signed from the Galaxy academy. He spent the last three years playing in the now defunct reserve division as well as being placed on a host of loans with lower division sides.
Bowen appeared in just one league match prior to his success in 2010. Bowen admits that, it is still a great challenge to adjust to the grind of the season.
"Everything is still pretty new to me, now that we're in the stretch of the season, you feel a bit more fatigue and you feel a bit more wear and tear on your body than you did in the beginning of the season, " said Bowen. "Still at this part of the season, we don't have as much rest as earlier and everyone is going to tire, but its important to just remain a good professional."
Los Angeles is set to get an injection of talent with the returns of midfielders Juninho and David Beckham in the coming weeks, but that doesn't mean the youngsters won't still have key roles in the Galaxy's offense. In order to reduce the workload on Stephens and Bowen, Los Angeles has tried to limit the duo's minutes recently to prepare them for the stretch run, which continues this weekend against the Eastern Conference leading Columbus Crew.
Sarachan understands that it is tremendously difficult to keep these young players fresh heading into the closing parts of the season.
"It's the ultimate challenge with young players coming from club or college environment to sustain themselves over this long season," said Sarachan. "As a staff, we're aware of the moments where we might need an extra moment or two, it's hard to go wire to wire at a high level, we just hope that low points aren't that so low that the guys lose confidence."
With the Galaxy's once firm stranglehold over the Supporters Shield now gone, Stephens is acutely aware that for the Galaxy to break out of their most recent slump, the young pair must return to the form that they enjoyed in the early part of the season.
"Physically, it hasn't been so bad because I have a good engine on me but mentally this stretch week after week has been tough, but I need to keep going," said Stephens. "We're getting towards the end and we've got to be focused so we can finish strong."