Daily Herald
Stephens gets a big kick out of playing for Galaxy
By Orrin Schwarz | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 9/3/2010 12:02 AM

You couldn't blame Michael Stephens if he's spent the better part of this season a little wide-eyed.

The rookie midfielder plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy, the closest thing MLS has to a circus.

Each game he takes the field with Landon Donovan, the best American soccer player ever. Here's Edson Buddle, leading the league in scoring despite missing time for the World Cup. There's Gregg Berhalter, a former U.S. international. The coach is former U.S. coach Bruce Arena.

"It's great," said Stephens, 21, a Naperville native who was the Galaxy's first-round draft pick last winter. "You can learn a lot from them. When I first came in I watched guys like that train. And it's not just those two (Donovan and Buddle). There's a lot of guys with international experience. I think we've got five or six guys that have played in World Cups. It's amazing to be able to see every day how they train."

And now David Beckham is back training with the club after suffering a torn Achilles' tendon in March while loaned to AC Milan. Beckham hopes to see game action next weekend, just missing Saturday's game against the Fire.

"The big thing the first year is just to get experience, and it's been good so far," Stephens said.

But Stephens has spent the season doing more than just filling a roster spot on a star-laden team. He's the only Galaxy player to touch the field in all 22 of the team's MLS games this year. His 7 assists rank him among the league leaders. He's in a tight race for the MLS Rookie of the Year award.

"The most important thing is our team is putting up a lot of production," Stephens said, explaining the assist total. "I've definitely benefited from that."

Stephens grew up playing club ball for the Chicago Sockers, and after a brief stint at Benet Academy in Lisle, he spent his high school years at U.S. Soccer's residency program in Bradenton, Fla. From there he went to UCLA, then on to the Galaxy, the best team in MLS so far this season. The 2012 Olympics is on his radar.

"That's definitely a goal of mine," he said.

But first comes Saturday's game at sold-out Toyota Park against the Fire and players like Brian McBride and Nery Castillo. Don't expect Stephens to be starstruck.

Bob is back: It wasn't exactly the most popular decision, but the U.S. Soccer Federation announced this week that Bob Bradley will be back for another World Cup cycle as men's national-team coach.

There appears to have been only one other candidate, Juergen Klinsmann, and U.S. Soccer chief Sunil Gulati refused to answer questions about Klinsmann.

Bradley's choices to use Robbie Findley and Ricardo Clark so much during the World Cup earned him a great deal of criticism. They might have cost his team a chance at the World Cup quarterfinals.

But the fact remains that other than Klinsmann there were no other obvious choices, and despite the Findley and Clark blunders, Bradley did get his team out of group play, and he did get the team to the Confederations Cup final, scoring some big upsets along the way.

U.S. fans have to hope the Princeton-educated Bradley learns from his mistakes.

oschwarz@dailyherald.com