Los Angeles Soccer: Dilly Duka
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.”
Major League Soccer's annual Generation adidas tour of Europe begins Monday, and the 18-man team Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes will guide includes Zarek Valentin, who would still be part of Chivas USA if he were still in the Generation adidas program.
Valentin, 20, who went to Montreal in last week's expansion draft, is one of four players “graduated” last month from the developmental program on the roster for the 10-day trip, which includes games against Ajax Amsterdam's reserve team, FC Volendam and Almere City FC. Vermes played for Volendam in 1990.
The other “graduates” are Columbus midfielder Dilly Duka and Tony Tchani and Philadelphia forward Danny Mwanga.
Garden Grove's Luis Gil (Santiago HS), a rising midfielder with Real Salt Lake, Philadelphia midfielder Amobi Okugo (UCLA) and Seattle defender Michael Tetteh (UC Santa Barbara) are among continuing GA players on the roster.
MLS's decision to “graduate” Valentin from the GA program led the Goats to leave him exposed in the expansion draft, where he was nabbed by Montreal coach Jesse Marsch, a former Chivas captain. Galaxy coach Robin Fraser last week said it “extremely baffling” and said he was “extremely, extremely disappointed” to see Valentin, 20, pulled from the program.
GA players do not count against clubs' salary caps nor roster sizes.
MLS officials have not addressed the reasoning behind the decision despite requests to do so.
The GA roster is bolstered by former GA Kevin Alston, a defender for New England, and three Home Grown Players: New York's Sacir Hot and Matt Kassel and D.C. United's Conor Shanosky.
Major League Soccer's Generation Adidas trek to Madrid started off swell, with a 2-1 victory over Real Madrid's reserve team Thursday.
Galaxy forward Tristan Bowen (Van Nuys), former UCLA standout Amobi Okugo and rising star Luis Gil (Garden Grove/Santiago HS) are among 19 players -- all either in MLS' developmental Generation Adidas program or recent grads -- on the team guided by FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman.
Injured Chivas USA midfielder Blair Gavin is one of two current GA players who are missing the trip.
Sporting Kansas City forward Teal Bunbury, who last month made his U.S. national team debut, and Columbus midfielder Dilly Duka scored for the MLS side. Okugo, who plays for Philadelphia, was a standout in midfield, and Real Salt Lake's Gil came on in the second half.
Others on the roster include national-teamers Juan Agudelo (New York) and Brek Shea (FC Dallas). The team will face the reserve teams from Rayo Vallecano on Tuesday and Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.