Mike Magee can smile about it now. But at the time, in the winter of 2009, he was burning the candle at both ends and his soccer career seemed ready to go up in smoke.
“I was kind of living a bachelor lifestyle,” says Magee, who enjoyed all of what New York had to offer during six seasons there. “Sometimes it was hard to focus and do the right things off the field.”
Then, in quick succession, came a trade to the Galaxy, the birth of a child and a new perspective on life and soccer — both of which, Magee says, he enjoys much more now.
“He has matured,” says Bruce Arena, who coached Magee in New York then traded for him five months after taking over the Galaxy.
And the credit for that, Magee says, goes to his 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Keira.
“Since I’ve had her it’s definitely opened my eyes,” says Magee, whose childhood sweetheart, Kristen Pizzolato, gave birth to the couple’s only child in March 2010. “All the cliche things that people say about having a kid are true. You kind of realize there are a lot more important things than even soccer. It puts your priorities in order.
“Before, after a loss I’d be carrying it for a couple of days, whereas now, I still got my daughter. I’ve got to give her a hug after the game. I’ve got to get up with her the next morning and play with her. Instead of feeling sorry for myself or celebrating a win, I’m just hanging with her.”
That new attitude has paid off big for the Galaxy, especially in the postseason. Magee’s second-half goal against Seattle in the first leg of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference finals last weekend was his third in four playoff games this fall and his sixth in eight postseason games over the last two seasons.
And he’ll be looking for more Sunday when the Galaxy, protecting a three-goal lead in a home-and-away series, play the Sounders in Seattle with a berth in next month’s MLS Cup on the line.
Magee says he has no idea why his goals-per-game average is nearly three times better in the postseason than in the regular season, guessing it might have something to do with focus or intensity. Nor has he any idea what would have happened to his career had Arena not brought him to the Galaxy before the 2009 season.
“I was uncertain about everything in my life,” the 28-year-old midfielder remembers. “And as soon as that [trade] happened, everything made sense again. All those insecurities and funky thoughts inside my head just kind of went away.”
Arena coached Magee for less than a season and a half with the Red Bulls and for much of that time Magee was unavailable after undergoing knee surgery. Yet, the coach saw enough to know Magee would thrive with the Galaxy while the Red Bulls had seen enough to let him go for nothing more than a second-round draft pick.
“Good player in a variety of positions,” Arena says of the scouting report. “Pretty comfortable in front of the goal, which is a unique skill. A player capable of scoring goals as both a midfielder and a forward.”
As well as a player capable of leading both on and off the field.
Last season, for example, after the Galaxy lost starting keeper Donovan Ricketts to injury and backup Josh Saunders to a red card Magee volunteered to play in goal and made three saves in 49 minutes to preserve a shutout. And in a locker room often skewed by the larger-than-life personalities of Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane, Magee’s laid-back personality helps keep things in order.
Leaning against a wall outside the Galaxy’s Home Depot Center dressing room after practice Wednesday, Magee smiles again as he reflects back on his four seasons in Los Angeles, a time that has brought him a new start on his career, an MLS championship and a budding family — not necessarily in that order.
“Since the day I got here it’s been the most incredible experience,” he says. “It’s nothing I ever would have dreamed of.”