The Homecoming King. Mike Magee talks about his return to Chicago
By Oliver Wilson
Mike Magee loved his time in Los Angeles.
Why wouldn’t he? The LA Galaxy took him away from a New York Red Bulls side that was struggling to show off it’s prowess in Major League Soccer, and placed him in a side that, in his first season on the West Coast, topped it’s Conference and missed out on winning the Supports Shield by a single point.
Three and a half years and two MLS Cup trophies later, Magee was still thoroughly enjoying his time in the relaxed Southern California area. But despite the success and the hospitality of his home away fromm home, something was still eating at him.
“I moved away from home when I was 15,” said the Illinois born Magee.
“I’m 28 now and I think being away from my family for that long was starting to weigh on me.
“Things were great at the Galaxy. It would have been fine if I had stayed there as well, but it was kinda itching at me to get home. Once the Robbie Rogers thing began to unfold it just felt right.”
Rogers’ return from retirement after becoming the first openly gay soccer player in the USA may have been the story that the media pounced on, and his decision to return to his home town of Los Angeles after the Galaxy set the wheels in motion to acquire his services grabbed the majority of the headlines. Magee knew this was an opportunity for him too. A chance to scratch that itch and head back to his family home in the windy city and so the midfielder asked if he could be the guy to go the other way in the trade with Chicago.
“I had an amazing time there [in LA] and it definitely changed my career,” continued Magee, who wrote an open letter to the Galaxy fans to thank them for their support for the past four and a half years.
“I just didn’t want there to be any confusion with the fans or anyone thinking that there was some kind of crazy conspiracy as to why I left. I just wanted them to know that I asked for it, there is nothing but love for the Galaxy and that my time there was amazing. It was just time for me to go home that’s all.
“I’m sure there will be some boos when I go back [to LA] but there will be some applause as well.
“The first thing I did was took look at the schedule to make sure that the Fire don’t have to play the Galaxy again this season so that’s good.”
Magee officially returned to his hometown on May 24th and had his first outing for his boyhood side in the US Open Cup five days later. The following weekend he made his MLS debut for the Fire, bagging his first goal at Toyota park and his second in his first two appearances for his new side.
“To get that first goal, it’s huge because, as any forward knows or anyone who’s played soccer knows, the longer you go without scoring it’s becomes borderline impossible to score. To get a goal in my first Open Cup game and in my first home game kinda takes a lot of pressure off me and now I can just play my game.”
Magee’s game could fit the Chicago Fire like a glove. Their struggling start to the season has lacked a finishing touch in front of goal and last season’s top scorer Chris Rolfe has managed to muster up just one goal in their first 11 games of the year. Magee though, who spent the majority of his time stuck in the Galaxy’s midfield rather then in their front line, believes he can once again become the striker he knows is inside him and take the Fire on a charge back up the MLS table.
“I love playing forward. I’ve always loved it. Obviously I’ll accept the role playing in midfield and I’ll do anything for the team. In LA that’s where they needed me to play you know. Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan aren’t a bad pairing up top so I wasn’t going to argue about playing in the midfield.
“The last time I played forward for any long period of time was my rookie year which was 2003 and then the next season I moved to midfield and I don’t think, since then, I’ve ever played more then three games up front in a season so hopefully that’s where Frank Klopas sees me. That’s where I love to play and I can definitely score goals. I think I’m in a position where I can help this team up front.”
Klopas appears to agree and the deft finishing touch to his strike against DC United on the weekend showed the fans and his new manager, that Mike can be just like…….Mike.
An MJ type x-factor on the pitch is what the Fire have been looking for as their season stands on the brink of success and failure. The Columbus Crew sit six points ahead of them in 7th place in the Eastern Conference and the Fire are looking more like a solitary candle flame flickering in the MLS wind. It’s a position Magee knows all too well, but he also knows that all is not quite lost at this point in the season, and there is plenty of time for his new side to turn their fortunes around and push on for a fantastic finish and playoff football.
“It happened to LA last year and we all know what happened to the rest of that season,” said the upbeat forward.
“I think the biggest similarity with this team and my teammates from last year is that, last year we lost Omar Gonzalez unexpectedly before the season and we went into a rut. It was longer then this.
“This team we lost [Arne] Friedrich right before the season starts and I know what that does when you lose your leader in the back. That’s the hardest to replace.
“I have a positive outlook on it because I’ve been there and I’ve come back to win a cup from it. That can only help.”
The similarities between the two clubs don’t end there. Both sides, according to Magee have had an immensely talented young centre back to anchor their defense and grow around, and while Omar is off away on US Men’s National Team duty, the Fire’s Austin Berry is beginning to learn his trade and take the MLS by storm.
“Austin is a guy in his second year now and he’s got all the right qualities,” Magee raved about his new teammate.
“You need that experience, you need to make mistakes and learn from that, which Omar did pretty quickly, so Austin is a guy who we’re counting on to step up and be a big player for us, obviously with him and Bakary [Soumaré], if they can get a good relationship back there, we’ll be a very dangerous team.”
A hat-trick on the opening day of the season against his new employers will be forgiven if Magee can bring that goal scoring quality back to the Fire’s frontline and with a relaxed attitude to his move back east, there is no reason why Magee and Chicago can’t be the perfect combination together. It might not just be the wind of the windy city that gets Frank Klopas’ side’s sails bellowing once again.