CARSON, Calif. — We hear the stories every four years: There’s a price to pay for Olympic glory.
In the case of LA Galaxy third-year midfielder Michael Stephens, the chance to go to this summer's London Games has meant sacrificing playing time with his club in both CONCACAF Champions League and MLS league play.
“It is tough, obviously,” Stephens recently told MLSsoccer.com. “It hurts my standing here a little bit. But I think it’s just overall a great honor and something that I don't think that anyone will ever pass up. It’s really exciting for me and a big time for me.”
After the Galaxy’s CCL match against Toronto FC on March 14, Stephens left the club to join the US Under-23 national team for camp. He is currently in Nashville, Tenn., as the US will attempt to earn a ticket to London via CONCACAF qualifying.
Stephens has been a part of the U-23 picture ever since coach Caleb Porter began to weed out the roster during training camp and friendlies held in January. Consequently, Stephens was used solely as a reserve in the Galaxy’s first two games of 2012, coming off the bench in all three matches and playing a total of 23 minutes in that span. He was an unused substitute in last week’s match against Toronto FC.
“We missed him for a couple weeks in preseason, an important part of preseason, for these practice games that they played,” manager Bruce Arena said. “We've missed him a little bit in preseason, and that's hurt his ability to get on the field with us.”
The Under-23s feature several talented standouts in the midfield, including MLS standouts Freddy Adu and Brek Shea, as well as foreign-based players such as Joe Corona and Mix Diskerud. Finding time in such a group might be challenging, but Stephens is ready for whatever role Porter sees fit.
“Throughout the camps, most of the time I've been used as a sub,” he said, "but obviously, I'll be ready for any minutes that come my way and I'll be ready to go for them."
What could help Stephens’ chances is the nature of the tournament. The US will play Cuba, Canada and El Salvador on Thursday, Saturday and next Monday, respectively. That’s three games in five days with a semifinal and final to follow should the US get out of their group. The rapid-fire span could force Porter to use most, if not all, of the 20 players on the roster.
But Stephens is not getting ahead of himself when it comes to thinking about London.
“There's a lot to do,” he said. “First we have to qualify, and then there will be a lot that goes into making those selections, so I'll take it one step at a time.”