As Galaxy rev up, Stephens gets comfortable in unique role
CARSON, Calif. – Michael Stephens' acceptance of a role he's never really wanted has triggered something in his game. The third-year midfielder finally is making a real impact for the LA Galaxy, with goals or assists in the past three games, all of them critical victories.
He capped a marvelous performance in Wednesday night's CONCACAF Champions League clash with the Puerto Rico Islanders, netting the final goal in a 4-0 rout as LA reached the midpoint in Group 5 with a maximum six points.
WATCH: Stephens feeds Dunivant for goal
That followed two superb showings off the bench in the previous week: He set up Juninho's first goal to ensure a 5-2 CCL victory last week over El Salvador's Isidro Metapán, then fed Todd Dunivant's late strike to nail down the 2-0 MLS triumph Sunday over FC Dallas (above).
The goals are bonus: Stephens' job is to step in late and shut things down, and he's been effective since the Galaxy's surge began in mid-June. He's been on the field at the end in 10 of LA's 11 victories since then – coming off the bench in seven of those – with a plus-10 personal goal difference.
It's not exactly what Stephens wants to do – following a fine rookie season in 2010, when he started 21 games and had eight assists, a playmaker's role looked possible – but he's bought into the plan.
“Of course you want to start, but you've got to do whatever you can,” he said. “Minutes are minutes, and if they come at the end of the game, you've still got to make the most of them.”
Stephens, who has a goal and two assists while starting six of seven Reserve League games, has grown into the job. It took some time, but his comfort has sharpened his attacking skills; before the Metapán game, he'd totaled two assists in 52 appearances, all competitions, since his rookie season.
“I just think Mike has had a difficult time kind of getting his head right for that kind of role,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “It needed to be done, and I think [against Metapán and Dallas] he was simply outstanding understanding how to protect the game for his team.
“He's been very good in that role. Not everyone likes to do that, but you need some guys with some intelligence, experience, and at this point in Mike's career, he can certainly do that if called upon.”