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We’ll always have 2013, Mike Magee

Magee’s retirement ends one of MLS’ more interesting - and successful - careers

Soccer - MLS - New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire
So, yes, Mike Magee was a vicious competitor.
Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Let’s talk about Mike Magee the footballer, at least this one last time. Because Mike Magee does what Mike Magee wants, and Mike Magee is about to do some new, other thing we haven’t seen Mike Magee do.

Watching Mike Magee doing things has reliably been pretty interesting and sometimes called for the use of adjectives from the ‘break in case of wonder’ lockbox in the Writers’ Lodge, so the concern is that whatever comes next could just be entertaining enough to put Mike Magee’s Mike Magee-ness into another frame altogether. He’ll be Mike Magee, state senator, or Mike Magee, television personality - or even Mike Magee, football executive (or whatever), and the idea of Mike Magee the footballer will just be that dude’s origin story.

Or, we could all just get old and forget.

This was Mike Magee: Whatever the team needed, but not necessarily what it asked for. You don’t tell Mike Magee - you ask Mike Magee. Mike Magee is a shapeshifter whose true form is Victory. With Los Angeles he was the opportunist, the guy who lived in the tiny pools of shadow thrown by all the bright lights the Galaxy put on the field. He’d shore up possession and bide his time, then turn up unmarked at the back stick to tap the ball home. Or spend all game complaining about a certain kind of foul, only for exactly that kind of foul to need calling in the final five minutes to preserve the win. Or go between the pipes and preserve a shutout when the keeper goes down:

The great challenge of the shapeshifter is imagination. Mike Magee imagined himself as an inverted winger, as a shadow striker, as defensive forward, as a fox and an owl and a gopher. He didn’t shrink from the challenge of re-imagining. When he stuck his hand up in 2013 and volunteered to come home to the Fire, the shapeshifter came up against a new challenge: The Fire needed a superhero. So, for five glorious months, Mike Magee became one.

For five months, Mike Magee invigorated a typically poor latter-days Chicago Fire roster to the verge of MLS playoffs by becoming the thing he’d always thought he could be: The Guy. He finished chance after chance, yes, but he was also the guy hustling the ball back to the center circle when the game was still there to be won. He shouted and gesticulated and all but pantomimed putting the team on his back. And he retained his uncanny knack for being around where something big was going to happen, and discovered an uncanny knack for doing something beautiful when you least expected it:

Then the kind of things happen that happen in this fallen world: Mike Magee had a celebrity moment. Mike Magee did a whole lotta interviews. Jurgen Klinsmann called Mike Magee up to the January camp, where he promptly got injured, or maybe held out, or maybe both or neither. But definitely injured, because when Mike Magee played he looked as if he’d exchanged his lower extremities with Garrincha, which might be awesome were Garrincha not 1) 33 years in the grave, and 2) 83 years old, were he not dead.

Then surgery. Rehab. Lots of rehab. Lots of rehab that wasn’t always administered in a way that Mike Magee found professional. Suddenly the MVP home-town boy hasn’t really played in a year and a half and, oh - guess what, this is so cool - absent your furious prodding, they’ve devolved into a jellylike mold growing at the foot of the MLS table. Weirdly, Mike Magee didn’t want to go out like that.

Mike Magee will go on to do interesting Mike Magee things. We’ll watch. But in Chicago, we will remember Mike Magee the footballer for the five months when his ambition and cunning lifted a moribund Chicago Fire and drew the attention of the soccer world.