BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — Mike Magee looked around after Chicago Fire training grounds on Monday and picked out members of the squad he already knew before he was acquired from the LA Galaxy for Robbie Rogers on Saturday.
Frank Klopas, he pointed out, was a player he looked up to growing up in the Chicago area. He also knew players Wells Thompson, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe just from being around the league since 2003, and he laughed as he pointed to assistant coach Mike Matkovich, who coached the rival Magic when he played for the Chicago Sockers, a local youth club.
“I hated him back then,” the Chicago native said jokingly. “Not so much now.”
Magee is finally back where it all started before he left town at the age of 15 to pursue a professional career. And he's delighted to be back.
“I moved away when I was 15 and never moved back,” Magee said. “I've got a lot of family here, I’ve kept in touch with all my friends, so it's good to be back, to say the least.”
Had things gone a little differently, Magee might never have left Chicago, save for his time at the national team's youth training academy in Bradenton, Fla. Former Fire coach Bob Bradley discovered Magee a few years earlier when he was coaching the Fire and recommended him to then-youth national team coach John Ellinger.
When Bradley went to New York in 2003, he traded Brad Davis for the right to take Magee with the fourth pick in the MLS SuperDraft.
Thirteen years later, Magee finally saw the opportunity to come home when trade discussions began for the rights to Rogers. Originally, Magee didn't think he'd head the other way in a deal, but when he was presented with the opportunity to return, he pounced.
“I had a good talk with Bruce, mentioned I’m from here and that it was long past due that I get home,” Magee said. “The Galaxy were great in facilitating that.”
Without Magee's desire to return home, the Fire and Galaxy might still have been deadlocked on a deal for Rogers.
“He wanted to come back home,” Fire president of soccer operations Javier Leon told MLSsoccer.com. “I think that was on his mind for some time. I think that was the critical piece in getting someone like Bruce Arena to agree to part ways with Mike Magee.”
But Klopas regularly preaches about the deep connection he had as a player to the Fire and to Chicago, and Magee and new acquisition Bakary Soumare, who was drafted by the Fire and always kept a home in Chicago, have those ties.
For a player to possess those roots in Chicago, Klopas said, can only be beneficial.
"There’s a deep meaning to these guys and there’s a pride when they put the jersey on,” Klopas said. “You have to care, it’s gotta be something that hurts inside when you don’t do well. It might not be the same for any other club but for us, that’s what it means here. When we walk around, we have a lot of passion for the team, the city and soccer here in this town.”