Mike Magee resurrected his soccer career with the LA Galaxy. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Second of a four-part The Three Amigos series that was originally posted at BigAppleSoccer.com on Mary 26, 2013
By Michael Lewis
Midway through the 2008 MLS season, Mike Magee had made up his mind. He did not want to return to the Red Bulls for another season.
Battling knee injuries the past two years, the then 24-year-old midfielder-forward felt he needed a new environment.
“There was a midway point in that year where I realized I didn’t [want] to come back,” he said. “It was best for me to kind of get a fresh start. See what life was outside of New York.”
After the Red Bulls lost to the Columbus Crew in MLS Cup, Magee told team management of his desires.
“My contract had expired. I told them I wouldn’t come back,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “Basically, I was going to go play for Chicago.”
But even the best-laid plans of mice and midfielders sometimes go awry.
“Speaking with Chicago, my agent said that Bruce [Arena, LA Galaxy coach] had contacted him and said there was interest,” Magee said. “As soon as I heard that, for some reason it felt right. Obviously, I knew Bruce. LA obviously seemed like a decent place to go to. Bruce had more interest than Chicago. It just felt right. There was a point where I Knew I was not going to go back to New York. They were good in facilitating me.”
So Magee got his wish. The Red Bulls sent him to the Galaxy for the club’s second-round pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.
It was, however, not perfect.
“For a day they actually traded me to Toronto for about 12 hours,” Magee said prior to being traded to the Chicago Fire on Saturday. “Nothing against Toronto, but they had turf at the time. I wasn’t ready to go to Canada. I basically said, ‘I wouldn’t go there.’ . . . The next morning we put a stop to it.
“It was a blessing that I came here.”
Here is LA, where Magee flourished in key moments the past four-plus seasons, particularly in the playoffs. He has scored so many vital goals for the Galaxy that Magee has been nicknamed Mr. November. Since joining the Galaxy, Magee has played in three MLS Cups, winning the past two competitions.
“I think it’s great,” he said of the nickname. “Obviously, that’s definitely a major compliment knowing that in the most important month of the season you are able to score some goals and do some good things for the team. But the biggest important thing I found out about my career those things wouldn’t be possible if the team wasn’t so good. To be able to play apart of a few championships and a couple of Supporters Shields, it has been great.”
Magee had played for Arena when the latter coached the Red Bulls in 2006 and 2007.
“My first game under Bruce was when I did my knee, so I think I was hurt his entire tenure,” he said. “I had known him. His son Kenny and me were best buddies, I knew he was a good guy.
“It was definitely a big change from things in New York where every day there was turnover. I felt every day there were rumors, guys getting traded or cut. Pretty we have the same core. I think that’s why we are successful.”
Magee was part of former MetroStars coach Bob Bradley’s rookie triumvirate that was selected in the first dozen choices of the 2003 MLS SuperDraft; Houston’s Ricardo Clark and Columbus’ Eddie Gaven were the others. He was 18 at the time.
“Oh man, to be honest, I didn’t have any expectations,” Magee said. “I was too dumb and too young to really have a grasp on what was really going on. It was a dream of mine. My best memory is kind of calling Bob when I decided I was going to play in MLS, basically telling Bob Bradley that I really wanted to play for him. He told him he would make it happen. That was pretty cool. Obviously the day, it was really a dream come true. Being drafted and get to move to New York was something probably I guess I’d be never able to do.”
The 5-10, 160-lb. Magee scored seven goals that season. His most memorable one — the first one of his professional career — came in a 1-0 home victory over the Columbus Crew at Giants Stadium on April 26, 2003. It was the MetroStars’ first win of the season after a loss and a tie.
Magee, who came on for an injured Jaime Moreno in the 22nd minute, scored unassisted in the 59th minute, converting a six-yard shot past goalkeeper Jon Busch.
Immediately after the game, Magee left the stadium and hopped on a plane bound for Chicago so he could attend his senior prom.
“It was cool,” he said. “You know what’s funny? I haven’t been asked about that in probably 10 years and in the last month I have been asked about it four times. The thing I remember most is scoring my first goal. When you’re a kid and you want to be a professional athlete and you play as a forward, my dream obviously was to play professional soccer. Once that dream came true, I wanted to score a goal. It is a pretty memorable for most.”
Did the goal give Magee some bragging rights that night?
“It was in a small town so every pretty much knew,” he said. “It definitely helped my credibility for that night.”
Magee admitted he didn’t know too much about Major League Soccer when he was brought into the U.S. Under-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla.
“To be honest, I didn’t have too many expectations,” he said. “Everything sort of came so quick. Even when I first got invited to residency I didn’t even know it existed. I never made a state or regional team and all of a sudden Bob Bradley saw me play with the Chicago Soccers and had me called into a [U-17] national team camp and literally on the third day of the camp, [coach] John Ellinger told me that I got accepted into the residency program. So I had to figure out what he was talking about. I got drafted two years later. Didn’t know too much about MLS. I was big on baseball as a kid. I didn’t follow soccer so much. Everything kind of happened so fast. I didn’t have time to catch my breath. The first time I did was the first time when I hurt my knee in 2006. For the first time in my life I had to look back and sort some things out.”
Magee’s knee injury woes began in 2006 when he played only 17 games. They got worse in 2007 when he saw only 144 minutes of action over seven goals. He returned to play in 26 matches, which included 18 starts while scoring five goals. That included a resurgence when he tallied in three consecutive games in August. Still, he felt he wasn’t at 100 percent.
He called it his lowest moment in soccer.
“It was pretty low,” he said. “I had two knee surgeries. It was a long period of time that I kind of gave up on soccer.”
What kept him going?
“It was a long process,” he said. “It wasn’t an overnight thing where my knee felt all the way better. It meant the world to me getting the call from Bruce, even though I know I didn’t perform in two years. I had a small streak in New York where I scored three goals in three games, but I wasn’t even playing well. After the year, when I heard of the Galaxy’s interest, it lit a fire under me so I knew I had to perform. They believed in me. Even when I was done in Chicago, I would play there for nothing. When they were trying to get me to come I knew I had to perform, otherwise, it would make them look dumb.”
Now, Magee did not exactly the soccer world on fire immediately with the Galaxy, but he did make an impact with his new team in 2009. He became the 30th player to score a goal in MLS Cup and he also converted a penalty kick in the shootout, which the Galaxy lost to Real Salt Lake.
After an injury-plagued 2010 season, Magee bounced back to score 10 goals in all competitions the next season. He became the lone Galaxy player to find the back of the net in the regular season, playoffs, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Concacaf Champions League. He tallied three times in the post-season, something the Red Bulls could attest to. He scored a goal in each match of the aggregate goals series that eliminated New York. He added another playoff goal.
After a rather pedestrian regular season in 2012 (five goals, four assists), Magee continued his playoff success with three goals in six games.
This season could be his best yet, having tallied six goals in 10 matches entering the Galaxy’s game against the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
So, is the 28-year-old Magee just hitting his prime? Most goal-scorers reach their prime between the ages of 25 to 30.
“Oh man, I don’t want to say. I’m afraid I will jinx myself,” he said. “I’m definitely comfortable as I’ve ever been and being fine with not scoring and knowing my role as a player. It’s funny. I used to always stress goals and my stats. . . . The last two or three years when I finally don’t care about them and don’t stress, I start to score a little more.”
Despite his post-season success, Magee did not think he has reached his greatest heights yet.
“Man, hopefully, it’s yet to come,” he said.
To date, he said his most memorable moment has been winning his first MLS Cup, a 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo at The Home Depot Center in 2010.
“It was third final in four years, so the weight of the world was on me going into that game,” he said. “Once the final whistle blew, it was surreal.”
His second one was last season.
Are Magee and the Galaxy primed for a hat-trick, an unprecedented third successive MLS Cup?
Only time will tell, but if Mr. November has anything to say about it, the Galaxy will make some history — again.
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