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Mike Stephens proud to be with Chicago
CHICAGO — Last week, Michael Stephens found himself lined up against the Norwegian side whose kit he was wearing just a few short months ago.
On Friday, he’ll make his return to the StubHub Center, where he spent his first four seasons as a pro, only this time heading to the visitors locker room.
No word yet if the men’s soccer program at UCLA, Stephens’ alma mater, has found its way on the Chicago Fire’s early-season schedule.
But even as Stephens runs into familiar faces during the Fire’s fixtures against Stabaek IF and LA Galaxy, any sense of homecoming he’s felt pales in comparison with the actual homecoming the Naperville native has enjoyed since signing with his hometown MLS club.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Stephens said of his return to the Chicagoland area. “It’s definitely the happiest I’ve been as far as a personal standpoint. Just being here and seeing familiar faces and people that I know all the time, it’s been great.”
The role Stephens assumed in his stint with Stabaek is one he would like to replicate with his new MLS side.
“I was one of the more experienced players in a young team [at Stabaek], especially at the beginning of the season, so I brought some experience and tried to do a good job picking out the pass in the attacking third,” Stephens said. “I see myself as a two-way midfielder that links up the play, plays good defense, keeps people around me organized. I try to be a simple player, vocal, good on the ball, and good at putting pressure on the ball when the other team has it.”
Stephens displayed many of those attributes when he started and played 75 minutes for the Fire in a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers last Wednesday. He featured in an advanced midfield position and was active on the ball throughout the scrimmage.
“I thought we did well, we were unfortunate not to win the match, but for me personally I thought I had a strong performance,” Stephens said. “It’s never easy when you’re playing with a new group, some trialists on the field, but I thought we showed well for ourselves and made some decisions tough on the coaching staff.”
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