[MLS CUP SPOTLIGHT] When you get rave reviews from a veteran Premier League and international striker, you must be doing something right.
Here’s what Ireland forward Robbie Keane, his nation’s all-time leading scorer, had to say Friday about playing with Mike Magee, an ex-MetroStar/Red Bull who’s found a home alongside David Beckham in
the Galaxy midfield and scored in all three playoff games:
“I’ve been very, very impressed with his goals that last four weeks,” says Keane, who has played as a lone striker and with a forward partner since joining the Galaxy in August. “It’s been great for the team. And the way he plays as well, he’s a very clever footballer. He likes to get the ball down and play.
“For a striker, he’s very, very easy to play with. He’s always looking to play in to feet. I’ve been very impressed with him.”
Traded to the Galaxy in January 2009, Magee needed time to find a place as head coach Bruce Arena overhauled a team regarded as more of a joke than a bonafide contender the previous three seasons. Magee had endured his fill of turmoil in New York but he confesses that when he came west, he didn’t know any better.
“It makes all the difference in the world,” says Magee, who turned 27 in September. “We had different owners, different coaches. At 22 years old, I was the longest tenured player on the team.
“It was bizarre but to be honest I just kind of assumed it was that way with every team, and then I got here with Bruce and it was quite the opposite. We’ve had pretty much the same core group of players and the same coaching and it’s a lot better.”
Magee grew up in Chicago and along with Michael Bradley, Jonathan Spector and Will Johnson, would occasionally be granted by head coach Bob Bradley a run out with the Fire, MLS champion in its
expansion year of 1998 and a losing MLS Cup finalist in 2000 and 2003. Those were learning days, in every sense.
“Oh, man,” he laughs in recollection.” I went to train with the Fire when I was like 15 years old, and I realized right away it’s pretty cutthroat, especially seeing guys like Peter Nowak, and [Hristo Stoitchov] and [Carlos] Bocanegra and [Ante] Razov. I had a lot of pretty good examples at a young age, it definitely wasn’t all smiles and helping everyone out. It was a really good experience for me.
“I wasn’t used to getting hit or getting yelled at. I kind of thought I was the big guy, but once you get into a professional environment it’s kind of every man for himself. It was scary, for sure.”
Galaxy assistant coach Dave Sarachan served as Fire head coach from 2002 to 2007 and has vivid memories of the 5-foot-9 teenager learning the ropes in tough conditions yet still displaying abilities rare in American players. Magee’s scoring run has also revived memories of his willingness to jump in as goalkeeper when Donovan Ricketts was injured and backup Josh Saunders received a red card in a league match at San Jose.
“The thing that stands out about Mikey is that he was a little bit of a gym rat and he was a guy who from day one was just clinical in front of the goal,” says Sarachan. “He had a craftiness about him that for a little guy back then just sort of always had an answer for any kind of issues that came his way on the soccer field.
“We’ve used him as a wide midfielder but he gets himself in good spots, reads things early, and he’s always been that way. He does not fit the profile of a wide midfield player when you look at the qualities of what we all think are wide guys: speed, power, the ability to get endline and cross balls – we don’t use him in that capacity but he’s not like that.”
Several players have come close to scoring in each of their teams' playoff matches but none has attained the feat. Carlos Ruiz scored eight goals in five 2002 playoff games, including the overtime game-winner in the final, but failed to tally in one game.
Taylor Twellman scored for the Revs in the 2006 and 2007 MLS Cups though he came out on the losing end both times. And he scored in the two games leading up to each of those finals, but was blanked in the Revs’ playoff openers.
One Galaxy player has followed the same pattern as Magee, only to falter in the final. Two years ago, Landon Donovan scored in all three of the Galaxy’s games leading up to MLS Cup 2009. He was blanked throughout regulation and overtime as the teams battled to a 1-1 tie, and also shot over the crossbar in the penalty-kick shootout RSL won, 5-4.
Whether or not he scores and sets a league landmark, Magee will be prominent.
“He finds seams, finds holes, can tuck in defensively” says Sarachan. “You can put him anywhere and he’ll kind of figure out what is needed. The joke we have this year was at San Jose, in goal. Not only did he jump in, but it was like, ‘No problem.’ Now we don’t want to do that again, but it was pretty interesting. He’s just a guy you can count on.”