The rebuilding process moved along today with the official announcement that former Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder and Fire PDL alum Michael Stephens has signed with the Fire. Stephens, a local product who grew up in the Naperville area saw an opportunity to play professionally at home and jumped at the chance. The decision was an easy one. "It wasn't very difficult. The negotiating process wasn't very long," said Stephens this morning. "I was excited to come back to my home town to play for a team that I've been a fan of for a long time."
After three successful seasons with Los Angeles, his fourth year was a bit up and down with a decrease in playing time that eventually led to the Galaxy not picking up his option for 2013. "Maybe I stuck around in LA too long," he said of his initial MLS experience. Stephens cited the competition for spots on a crowded Galaxy roster as a reason for taking a shot at playing overseas. He played for former Fire coach Bob Bradley at Stabaek and preformed well enough to contribute 7 assists over 30 appearances last season. "For me it was a good opportunity to go learn. Being one of the only Americans there (Bradley) was extra hard on me and kept me improving throughout the year. I think I saw a lot of progress there from the time I started there to the end of the season. I think I improved a lot."
The chance to return to the states and play in Chicago was too enticing to pass up so he approached Bradley and Stabaek about a release. "I had another year there so I just went to them and talked to them and asked them if they could basically do me a favor. It was a good opportunity for me. I felt with leaving Stabaek it was the right time. I think I went there and did a good job but I didn't really see anything taking off from there. Once I heard about this opportunity I felt like this was a chance to continue to improve and establish myself in the MLS," he said.
Stephens was used mostly as a wide player for the Galaxy but he has played all over midfield. "My first five years professionally I've played in multiple positions during the season. I think my versatility is going to be able to help me. I'm not opposed to playing in different positions," said Stephens. "As far as expectations, I expect to play. Every team I've been on I've found a way to get on the field so I expect to do the same with Chicago."
"I'm a pretty well rounded midfielder. Defensively I cover a lot of ground. I have a good engine and offensively I like to think of myself as someone who can keep the play moving and keep possession. When I'm getting significant minutes (I'll get) some assists which I did last year as well as my rookie year when my playing time was increased." Stephens provided 8 assists in his rookie season in LA and tallied 2 goals and 12 assists over his four seasons in MLS. He was also part of the Galaxy back to back MLS Cup winning teams in 2011 and 2012.
"This was something that I've wanted to do. We've actually tried to make this happen before in the past but when we had the (opportunity) and everything lined up as far as Chicago having a roster space open and salary cap (room) things like that. It was a pretty easy decision for me," he said. If he can maintain his form from Stabaek last season he should be a player that can help a Fire team in the midst of a full on rebuild.