Back home and grounded by family, Mike Magee is finally fulfilling his potential
Home at last after some 13 years away, Mike Magee is reveling in time spent with family — for the most part.
“I was in a three-on-three charity soccer tournament and played with two of my cousins who never played soccer before. It was in Wheaton [Ill.] for Jack Kicks Cancer,” Magee recalled.
“I had no intention of even winning a game, but it was 3-2 and if we won, we advanced. So, 3-2, we’re losing, and I shoot it. And the fourth kid [from the opposing team] jumps on and says, ‘Sub!’ There’s like 10 seconds left, and he just saves it and the game ends,” he said. “And there’s no ref. It was bull****. I’m looking over and my Dad sees me and he looks at me and says, ‘Walk the f*** off the field right now,’ and I look at him and say, ‘You’re right,’ because I was about to lose it.”
Magee’s experience at that mid-June event conveys four things you should know about the 29-year-old Chicago Fire forward, who’s making a strong case for this season’s MLS MVP award. At his core, he draws strength from his family. When he makes the mature choice, he benefits. He is desperate to win — at everything. And finally, at this point in his career, the easiest way to stop him may be to cheat.
“If we play a small-sided game, he’s the guy who’s always trying to win the game. Put him on the worst team and he’ll bring that team to a new level and they’ll win, even against better guys,” said Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich, who’s known Magee since his days as a youth player in suburban Chicago.
“Even when he was young, he stood out. He was a good player technically, but he was also a very smart player. And he could score. We don’t have many guys like that in the country. … He’s a unique person. He’s got a bit of a character about him, and I think he’s matured over time as well.”
Maturity: It’s the filter through which Magee’s career should be evaluated. There never was any question he was gifted. It was evident when he left home at 16 to live and train with the U.S. under-17 national team in Bradenton, Fla., and when MetroStars coach Bob Bradley selected Magee with the fourth overall pick in 2003. It was obvious when he tallied seven goals and two assists during his rookie year.
But consistent professional success is about more than skill. It requires a level of focus and discipline that many never attain. It can be especially challenging for a privileged, talented teenager cloistered in Bradenton and then thrust into the New York spotlight. It took Magee time to come into his own. Multiple position changes and injuries, including a serious blow to his knee in 2006, delayed the process.
By the time he was dealt to the L.A. Galaxy in early 2009, his career was at a crossroads. Traded for a second-round draft pick, Magee was entering his seventh MLS season and still was only 24 years old. But that move would help forge the player, and the person, Magee is today — an All-Star, a folk hero, a team leader, a family man and a versatile Golden Boot threat.
There were two catalysts. One was a locker room featuring the likes of David Beckham, Landon Donovan and coach Bruce Arena – champions who demanded dedication and diligence. The second was the 2010 birth of his daughter, Keira.
“I think the biggest thing I took from L.A., I was watching guys like David [Beckham] in particular, on those days when other guys were taking off, he’s the one who you’d see be first in every sprint or the first one in on every tackle,” Magee told SI.com.
“It’s so contagious and I started realizing it, and slowly throughout the years in L.A. it became more and more clear to me that on days I don’t want to train, I need to train the hardest. Because there’s going to be a point when you don’t want to play. You’ll be in Houston in 95-degree weather. Maybe somebody on the Fire – I’m obviously not saying I’m David Beckham – but maybe somebody’s going to be watching me on a day the guys are tired or for whatever reason it’s not meant to be a good training. I just want them to know that this is more important.”
While Magee learned to be a good pro, his daughter grounded him. For the first in his life, it wasn’t all about him. And when it stopped being all about him, when Magee put himself at the service of his teammates and child, success followed.
“Everyone gives you a heads up and you know what’s going to happen, but you never really know. She’s beautiful and she definitely, definitely made me a much better person in all aspects,” Magee said. “I’m not going to say I was selfish or unselfish before. I just didn’t care. There were no consequences to my actions. I was a man and I was secure and now all of a sudden everything you do is going to affect her life and then all of a sudden, it’s like, maybe I should double think this or maybe I should take this more seriously or maybe this isn’t as important. It becomes so obvious.”