Mike Magee's return to Chicago has been magical.
The 28-year-old forward scored in the first match he played for the Fire on May 29 after he was traded from the L.A. Galaxy, then in six straight games after that. In fact, the only games the Chicago native hasn't put the soccer ball in the net were July 3 versus San Jose and Sunday at Vancouver. And in the San Jose match, he tallied a game-winning assist.
All this after he notched six goals for the Galaxy before the trade, making him one of the top scorers in Major League Soccer.
Magee has gone streaking, and it couldn't have come at a better time. In the Fire's first 11 MLS regular-season matches, they had just two wins, with two ties and seven losses. But since Magee's arrival in a trade for the rights to Robbie Rogers, the team has lost just four regular-season matches. Individually, he's earned the June Player of the Month award, a 2013 All-Star nod and a new nickname.
Around Toyota Park, Magee is "Magic Mike."
"It definitely creates a lot of smiles," he said of his newly minted moniker, modeled after Channing Tatum's character in the male stripper flick of the same name. "Sometimes I'll walk into a room and the movie will be on and my family will look at me with crooked eyes."
Nothing is going to his head, he says. Despite his scoring prowess, fan attention and a callout from ESPN soccer analyst Taylor Twellman—who said Magee will be the unquestioned league MVP if the Fire make the playoffs—Magee remains focused.
"It's awesome anytime you get a compliment from a guy like him," he said of Twellman, an MVP himself during his MLS career. "But I am so caught up in trying to win games and get points, that's not going to affect my play at all."
Magee racking up goals hasn't come as a surprise to teammates, who say his intensity has made the biggest difference.
"There's this demeanor about him that he wants to win," forward Patrick Nyarko said. "He keeps motivating guys, keeping them in tune to the game and not letting them slack. He's been scoring goals for us, but the most significant thing he's brought to the team is his fiery nature."
Nyarko recalled one of Magee's first practices with the Fire, when he struggled to understand a coach's calls during a drill because of his accent. Nyarko said Magee put himself in the back of the pack and watched his fellow teammates until he could get things right.
"He sacrifices everything for the team," Nyarko said.
Nyarko said Magee's personality off the field provides a perfect balance. He's calm, cool, collected and an all-around "nice guy" in the locker room and outside the park.
Currently Magee is crashing at his parents' place in River North with his girlfriend and 3-year-old daughter—"rent-free," as he puts it—until he finds a more permanent home for his family in Chicago, where his roots grow deep. He was born in Elmwood Park, grew up in Elmhurst and his family has lived in River North for 10 years.
His soccer career began with Sockers FC Chicago, a traveling youth club, and he's kept a close eye on his cousin, Jackie Santacaterina, who plays for the Chicago Red Stars.
He's thrilled to be back.
"It's been amazing," he said. "It helps that we're winning games, but it's such a great experience [playing for the Fire]. I had high hopes to begin with, and it's kind of been blown away."
Since his homecoming, he's been able to catch up on family time. On off days, he doesn't stray far from home.
"We're barbecuing, hanging out by the pool and playing a lot of dumb backyard games," he said. "We've got bags, Frisbee golf, pool basketball, a basketball hoop. I'm not going to say I'm the best at any, but I'm pretty good at finding a way to cheat enough to win."
Magee said he feels the Fire are "right there" in terms of the playoff hunt, but starting games stronger and the elimination of "garbage goals" surrendered to opposing teams will be key to taking the team to the next level, he said. He also knows what the Fire need from him.
"I just try to help out other guys on the team to get better," he said. "What the team needs out of me right now is to score goals. I'm going to try to focus on that."
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