GALAXY: First step for Stephens
CARSON -- Michael Stephens has been around the U.S. national teams programs long enough to know he can't be thinking about London just yet. The U.S. under-23 team must qualify for the men's soccer tournament at the London Olympics, and the fight for roster spots will be stiff.
The Galaxy's third-year midfielder says it's “a big honor” just to be part of Caleb Porter's roster for the March 22-April 2 CONCACAF qualifying tournament. Anything more, of course, would be terrific.
“[London] is too far,” the former UCLA star said following the Galaxy's training session Tuesday morning at Home Depot Center. “Obviously, we first have to qualify, then, obviously, a lot will go into picking those [roster] selections after that, so just take it one step at a time.”
Stephens is a versatile midfielder with good touch and ideas, capable of playing on either flank or in the middle, qualities that have made him a valuable asset off the bench as Porter, coach of NCAA powerhouse Akron, has built toward the qualifiers with camps last year in Germany, at HDC in January and last month in Texas.
“I think that's great that [Stephens] is in the pool of players ...,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “He's a good player, brings a lot of energy to the team.”
The team began gathering Tuesday in Nashville, but Stephens won't travel until after the Galaxy's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second leg Wednesday night against Toronto FC at HDC. His time with the U-23s hasn't helped him with L.A.
“We missed him for a couple weeks in preseason, an important part of preseason, for these practice games that [the U-23s] played,” Arena noted. “We've missed him a little bit in preseason, and that's hurt his ability to get on the field with us.”
Stephens, one of 19 players announced Monday for the pre-qualifying camp roster, understands.
“It is tough,” he said. “Obviously, it hurts my standing here a little bit, but it's a great honor. It's something I don't think anyone would ever pass up. … When you play for your country, it's a special honor.”
The U.S. opens qualifying March 22 in Nashville against Cuba, then faces Canada on March 24 and El Salvador on March 26. The March 31 semifinals, which will determine the qualifiers, and April 2 final will be played in Kansas City, Kan.
Home Depot Center will stage Group B doubleheaders, involving Mexico, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago, on March 23, 25 and 27.
Porter must complete his 20-man roster before next Tuesday's submission deadline. An injury Saturday to Columbus Crew midfielder Dilly Duka and Hertha Berlin's apparent reluctance to release German-born goalkeeper Alfredo Morales kept the list at 19, according to multiple reports.
The full roster (with affiliation in parentheses and hometown):
Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Annandale, Va.
Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Lilburn, Ga.
Josh Gatt (Molde/Norway), Plymouth, Mich.
Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Indianapolis
Ike Opara (San Jose Earthquakes), Durham, N.C.
Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo), Huber Heights, Ohio
Zarek Valentin (Montreal Impact), Lancaster, Pa.
Jorge Villafaņa (Chivas USA), Anaheim (Anaheim HS)
Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union), Potomac, Md.
Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Chula Vista
Mix Diskerud (Gent/Belgium), Oslo, Norway
Jared Jeffrey (FSV Mainz 05/Germany), Richardson, Texas
Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union), Sacramento (UCLA)
Michael Stephens (Galaxy), Naperville, Ill. (UCLA)
Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Barnegat, N.J.
Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund/Germany), Berlin
Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), Prior Lake, Minn.
Joe Gyau (1899 Hoffenheim/Germany), Silver Spring, Md.
Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Bryan, Texas