Three for Thursday: Looking for the next Mr. November in the MLS Cup Playoffs
For the last couple years, Mike Magee has held the title of "Mr. November" in MLS circles thanks to his clutch goalscoring in back-to-back MLS Cup runs with the LA Galaxy. But with Magee's Chicago Fire missing out on the postseason by the slimmest of margins, now is as good a time as any to take a look at some of the other players who might take over that mantle.
Of course, part of what made Magee special is that prior to his playoff exploits, he wasn't necessarily a marquee player. There was no big DP deal, no gaudy regular-season numbers prior to 2013, and little room in the spotlight next to the Galaxy's high-paid DPs.
So that's what we're looking for here – guys who have forged (or started to forge) respectable MLS careers, but who might not jump off the page as shoo-in clutch playoff performers. Everyone knows Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane have what it takes to produce in the playoffs, after all.
Here are three more potential candidates to take the title of "Mr. November" from Magee ... for this year, at least.
Lamar Neagle (Seattle Sounders)
It's hard not to notice the parallels between the Seattle Sounders attacker and Magee: Neagle is 26 years old heading into the playoffs, Magee was 27 going into his breakout 2011 playoff campaign. Both are versatile players who can fill in at forward or on the wing, and they've both shown a penchant for chemistry with the star players on their teams – the Donovans, Keanes, Martins, and Dempseys.
Fast-forward to Wednesday night's Western Conference Knockout Round, when we found Neagle starting up front with Eddie Johnson, sitting in front of Clint Dempsey, who himself may have found his place at the tip of a midfield diamond.
Neagle buzzed around the attack, putting himself into dangerous positions, largely thanks to the fact he was on the same page as Dempsey, and found himself with a handful of good chances. Though the finishing didn't quite come through on the night, his ability to get into those positions and the goalscoring ability he's shown throughout the season indicate that it could very well be a different story against the Portland Timbers.
And besides, how cool would it be for the kid from Federal Way to rise to the occasion for his hometown team in the playoffs?
Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
I'd be remiss if I didn't turn back to the team that has been so, so good in the postseason over the past two years, the same club that Magee excelled for when he made himself famous for his November exploits.
Turning to Zardes, the Homegrown rookie who has more less secured Magee's spot in the lineup since the latter's trade to Chicago at the end of May, we find an electric combination of skill, speed and goalscoring prowess waiting to be unleashed.
The CSU Bakersfield and Galaxy Academy product has had his fair share of growing pains in his first year, to be sure. The mind-blowing skills he promised us on draft day didn't quite materialize at first and the spot-on finishing and decision-making required in the pro game were sometimes slow to come around, but he has clearly come on in the latter half of the year.
Zardes has been a bona-fide starter since that May trade, enjoyed a breakout one-goal, two-assist performance in the Galaxy's 5-0 thumping of Chivas USA at the beginning of October and has started to show signs that that raw talent is becoming more polished. The next step? Putting that talent to use in the playoffs.
Jonny Steele (New York Red Bulls)
We can't leave out the East, and once again we'll turn to a team that has built an excellent supporting cast around its marquee DPs. Perhaps one of the best, and most underrated, members of that cast is journeyman midfielder Steele.
I have argued throughout the season that Steele has been one of the most important acquisitions of the offseason by the Red Bulls. Not only has he stayed on the field (his 2,665 minutes played are more than both Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill), he has provided a wide array of skills in the wide midfield spots and chipped in five goals and six assists on the season.
With New York's DPs rounding into form and likely to command plenty of attention from opposing defenses, Steele is definitely one of the prime players on this New York team to take advantage of the extra time and space afforded him. The Red Bulls have every right to be happy with their investment in the Northern Irishman as it is, and come Dec. 7, it could prove to be more than they'd ever hoped for.
Agree or disagree with this list? Who do you think will be your team's Mr. November? Make your voice heard in the comments below!