CARSON, Calif. – There's sure to be some changes in the LA Galaxy's midfield rotation this season, with David Beckham gone, Christian Wilhelmsson's three-month stopover done, and the success of Landon Donovan's partnership with Robbie Keane up front – whether or not Frank Lampard, or some other star, shows up.
Stephens' versatility has made him a chief contributor off the bench for the Galaxy – he was a substitute in 23 of 33 first-team competitive appearances last year (MLS Cup included) and of 16 of 33 in 2011 – but he wants to be a starter in his fourth Major League Soccer campaign.
“There's going to be opportunities, but it's a competition, and I'm ready to compete for a starting job,” said Stephens, who can play in the middle or on either flank. “I'm a better player now than when I first came in. Obviously, the minutes aren't where I want them to be the last few years, but if you're improving, that's all you can ask for.”
Stephens, 23, acknowledges his ability to play anywhere in midfield is “a plus and a minus ... you can find yourself floating in and out of spots,” and head coach Bruce Arena says he'll use the former UCLA star “a little bit out wide as well as inside.”
“Being able to properly play the position he's called upon to play [is crucial], an that remains to be seen,” Arena said. “Depending on where he plays, he's got to tactically understand that and do it right. ... He's been being some good players. He's been dealing in the middle with Beckham, Juninho and [Marcelo] Sarvas last year, and then out wide it's been [Mike] Magee, it was Christian, it's Landon. It's not a critique of Mike, he's just been competing against a bunch of good players.”
Jimenez, a 24-year-old right-sided winger, is the last surviving member of his draft class with the Galaxy, and when he got his shot last year – he started 13 MLS regular-season games, three CONCACAF Champions League matches and the MLS playoff opener against Vancouver – “it wasn't as consistent as I would like him to be,” Arena said. “This year, being his third year, he should be ready and more prepared to contribute.”
That's Jimenez's thinking.
“It's definitely one of my goals this year to find myself and find my role on this team,” he said. “I would like to earn my spot again and, hopefully, go from there and perform well for this team. ... I definitely feel like I belong here. I mean, it's not an easy team to break into, [with all the] high-quality players, but I think I've earned my place.”
Said Arena: “This year, part of the challenge will be a little more consistency from him and he being able to have more confidence when he steps on the field.”