By THOMAS FLOYD
Mike Magee hadn’t given much thought to the prospect of a Chicago homecoming. Never had a reason to. But once the idea popped into his head, he couldn’t let it go.
As Robbie Rogers sought a solution that would move his rights from the Chicago Fire to his hometown Los Angeles Galaxy, Magee came across a quote from Rogers that triggered his Windy City nostalgia.
“I think Robbie made a comment saying, ‘I don’t want to live in Chicago,’” Magee recalled. “At that exact moment, I said, ‘Man, I want to live in Chicago so bad.’ So it kind of just clicked.”
Thus Magee volunteered to be the player Los Angeles sent to the Fire in late May for Rogers, who after coming out as gay and suspending his playing career several months earlier was looking for the right environment to cultivate his comeback.
Although Magee said what Rogers is doing is “pretty incredible,” noting that “it takes a unique person to carry that weight,” he doesn’t care about being the answer to a Rogers-related trivia question.
No, after 14 years of being away from his family, of hearing about get-togethers from afar, of talking to his father “a couple times every day” to stay in the loop, Magee is too busy enjoying the chance to raise his 3-year-old daughter in the city he loves.
With all due respect to his time in Florida, New York and Los Angeles, he figures nothing beats home.
“It’s still kind of surreal,” Magee said. “I feel like I haven’t stopped moving since. I’m trying to catch up, and it’s so easy to get my mind off of soccer, and all of those stresses I would have, day in, day out, in New York and L.A. have kind of disappeared.”
Of course, relishing life off the field tends to be easier when matters are good on it. With goals in all seven matches he’s played for Chicago, spanning MLS and U.S. Open Cup play, Magee didn’t wait long to do his hometown proud.
While the 28-year-old’s previous career-high in goals was seven back in his rookie 2003 campaign, he’s already bagged 10 this season to put him in a tie atop the league scoring chart.
“And it’s not just the goals he scores,” Fire coach Frank Klopas said. “It’s what he does off the ball, his ability to help the team on the defensive side of the game, obviously his leadership qualities and stuff, and his ability to work.”
Considering Magee hasn’t lived in Chicago since his youth soccer days, it only seems appropriate he’s found success for the Fire up top — a throwback of sorts for a player typically used on the left flank while winning a pair of MLS Cups for Los Angeles.
When it comes to playing forward, Magee doesn’t try to hide that childlike enthusiasm.
“It’s all I played as a kid and all I ever wanted to play,” Magee said with a laugh. “Midfield is great and all, but it’s a lot of running and I definitely like being closer to goal. Since I got here, I’ve been trying to cherish that and score as many goals as possible so they can’t move me back.”
With every tally, Magee becomes more entrenched in the awards discussion — uncharted territory for the solid but often unspectacular MLS veteran.
His first All-Star selection seems probable. The Golden Boot is within his grasp. And it could be tough to talk MVP without at least bringing Magee’s name up, particularly if he continues to fuel the turnaround for a Fire team that was 2-7-2 before his arrival and is 3-0-1 since.
“Of course I think about it,” Magee said. “When I see things like that, I take it as a compliment. But anyone who kind of chases their stats or starts thinking that far ahead is not doing the right things for themselves and not being great for the team either.”
It’s the type of approach the uncapped Magee also has brought to his U.S. national team prospects. For as much as Magee craves a call-up, his awareness is distant enough that he didn’t realize until last week that he was left off the Americans’ preliminary Gold Cup roster named a month ago.
As Magee conceded, “I wasn’t aware — even up until a couple of days ago, I was waiting for a call that never came.”
So when Magee takes the field, he now does so knowing he still has work to do if he’s going to make his mark internationally.
But that’s just one motivating factor. Given the opportunity to routinely play before a horde of family and old friends at Toyota Park, the Chicago native hardly needs the extra incentive.
“He’s a kid from Chicago,” Klopas said. “He’s someone that obviously cares not only about his performance on the field but about his team and being from here. He does respect the history of the club and makes sure that he goes on the field and plays in a way that can make everyone proud.”