CARSON, Calif. – If Bruce Arena asks Michael Stephens to play in central midfield, Stephens will prepare to play in the center of the park. If Arena asks Stephens to slide in out right, out right is where Stephens will go.
And if Arena asks Stephens to sweep the locker room after everyone leaves, chances are Stephens will find a push broom and dustpan.
Compliance and versatility are two traits Stephens said he has developed during his first two seasons with the LA Galaxy, and they are also two of the traits he hopes will lead to more playing time in his third season.
“I need to be somebody who can play in a lot of different positions,” Stephens told MLSsoccer.com. “That’s the best way to get on the field, so anywhere Bruce asks me to play I’ll go.”
From top to bottom, the Galaxy’s roster boasts a wealth of depth, particularly in central midfield. In order to give himself the best chance at stepping on the field, Stephens said he isn’t concerned about what position or which role playing time comes in.
“In a perfect world, I think I’d be playing in the middle,” Stephens said. “But I’m going to do anything to get playing time. If that means playing out wide, I’d be more than happy to do that.”
While having players line up in different positions from game to game is beneficial to the club, such a duty is not entrusted to just anyone.
“It takes the right player to be able to do that,” Arena said. “Mike can do that. He’s versatile, and that’s what Mike has brought to us over the last few years.”
Stephens had a solid rookie campaign, logging 1,884 minutes and leading all MLS rookies in assists with eight. A year ago, his minutes dropped to 1,109 but Stephens still played in 25 regular-season games.
Despite that drop, he is likely to regularly challenge for playing time in regular-season games while being a more valuable asset internationally. With Marcelo Sarvas cap-tied in CONCACAF Champions League play, Stephens becomes a more significant player in that tournament.
“There is a better chance of me getting an opportunity early in that competition,” Stephens said. “I’m not viewing it any differently, but I’m definitely going to be ready. Right now, I’m feeling good fitness-wise so I’ll be ready.”
His brief career has opened doors internationally as well. Stephens was part of the US Under-23 national team in the offseason and has made it a goal to participate with the team in this Summer Olympics, should the squad qualify for the London games of course.
Playing well for the Galaxy and showing his versatile traits along the way will only strengthen his case for inclusion.
“It’s important. It’s something I want to do and something I put a lot of time into in the offseason,” Stephens said. “It’s definitely something that’s on my mind.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.