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Michael Stephens hoping to help Fire recovery

Fire coach Frank Yallop didn’t need to do much recruiting to sign midfielder Michael Stephens. Born in Hinsdale and having grown up in Naperville, Stephens is a Fire fan who’s tried in the past to join his hometown team. And when Norwegian club Stabaek let him leave, Stephens was able to come home and fulfill that ambition.

And since he’s a fan of the Fire, he doesn’t have to be told that over the last few years they’ve failed to live up to the standards of their supporters. Though he hasn’t been part of the senior team, he’s seen the instability and turnover that have led to missing the playoffs four times in the last five seasons and a miserable 2014 that saw the Fire finish ninth in a weak Eastern Conference and set a league record with 18 ties.

To get the Fire back on track, they’ll need to bring in players who can win in MLS while building some kind of continuity, something Stephens knows and wants to contribute to.

“That’s something that always helps, but looking from afar I can’t really pinpoint (why the Fire have struggled) but I hope that this year, obviously, there’s a big turnaround and I could be a part of that,” Stephens said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to, is the challenge of making this thing better.”

As expected, the Fire on Tuesday formally announced the signing of Stephens. The 25-year-old midfielder spent only 2014 at Stabaek after playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy for four seasons, winning two MLS Cup titles. He also played two seasons with Chicago Fire Premier in the USL Premier Development League before turning professional.

Though he has European experience and a pair of MLS Cup rings, Stephens isn’t the biggest signing the Fire will make before the start of the season, and will have to compete for a spot in the starting lineup. But, like Designated Player signing Kennedy Igboananike, he played in a Scandinavian league with a similar calendar to MLS, something that makes signing players in those countries easier

Yallop hopes that will get the Fire on track earlier next year.

“We want to hit the ground running in January, not wait until June and see what we get in June,” Yallop said during a teleconference last week before the Fire’s interest in Stephens was known. “We’ve got to get going.”

Stephens knows that, too.