CHICAGO – Mike Magee hasn’t even been out of MLS for a full season, but on Monday he was talking about the league’s next crop of stars like they’re from a whole new era and joking about how old it made him feel.
“When we were coming into the league I think it was the era of just kick it up the field and run and be physical,” Magee said, after MLS Homegrown Team training at Flames Field on the University of Illinois-Chicago campus. “These kids are good on the ball and confident and I think some of these kids were born in like 2000, 1999, and they’ve got a better touch than I ever had, so it’s exciting for the league.”
Both Magee and fellow Homegrown Team coach Brian McBride, Chicago natives who have seen plenty in MLS, left their first training session impressed by the quality, mentality and maturity of their group.
“It’s awesome. These kids are studs and they’ve all got smiles on their faces, which is important,” Magee said. “Good for them to come in here with the right mentality. It’s fun.”
On Tuesday, the Homegrowns will face Chivas de Guadalajara’s Under-20 team at Toyota Park in the 2017 MLS Homegrown Game presented by Energizer (8pm ET | UDN, facebook.com/univisiondeportes; MLS LIVE in Canada).
“I’m very honored. We just got done with our first session and very impressed,” McBride said. “Good group of kids – not even kids – they’re adults, young players. Technically, very strong. We just have to make sure we get them organized as a team, we’re playing a very good Chivas team that has been [together] for a while.
“The understanding you always see differently in the game, but technically working through the passing I was impressed. Even from back when I retired, our young guys were a lot more mistake-prone, passes weren’t as crisp and as accurate, first touch not near as strong. All these guys are sharp.”
McBride attributed some of that to the league's academy system and more players being in professional environments.
“All that, it helps, it puts you in a mindset that prepares you for international stage,” McBride said. “A lot of them have played internationally, whether U-17s or U-20s and that then everything is put under a microscope. And they’ve been under a microscope so they’re ready for this. It’s just we haven’t played yet, so working through those little things with expectations for them as players. They’re a good group.”
While Monday’s session marked the team’s first time together, the players seemed plenty familiar, whether from MLS or youth international competition.
“It’s nice to be here with some of the guys I’ve watched on like youth national teams and such, like Tyler and those guys with the U20s,” said Atlanta United midfielder Andrew Carleton. “The city is pretty nice, I’ve never been to Chicago, first time just kind of floating through and I was telling everybody how it’s a pretty nice city walking around a little last night. I’m looking forward to playing with the guys tomorrow.”
Jelling as much as possible in the short timeframe ranked atop the priority list.
“We all kind of know of each other, so it makes it a little bit easier,” Carleton said. “I think we’re going to be pretty good and be able to come together as a team.”
While the coaches did plenty of praising the players, the young guys also seemed to enjoy being coached by two MLS legends.
“They’re pretty cool guys,” Carleton said. “They played too so they know the position we’re in, they’re pretty laid back and they obviously want us to do well but they want to help us as best they can to come together as a team. They make it fun for us.”
McBride said they considered a few different ideas for team building – including WhirlyBall, a local activity that’s something like bumper cars-meets-basketball-meets-lacrosse – but none worked out time-wise and they didn’t want to take away from the players’ All-Star Week experience.
“We understand these guys in a year or two or three we want them to be out there [at All-Star training],” McBride said. “So give them that little taste of the experience and they deserve it. It’s an honor being a part of this, so we don’t want to take away from that.”