CARSON, Calif. – Mike Magee was lured home to Chicago nearly three years ago by a siren's call that had beckoned half his life. He soon discovered he'd left home to get there.
Now the veteran forward is back where he belongs, he says, living in “heaven on earth” and toiling once more for the LA Galaxy, “an incredibly special club” that has seen his best soccer – and hopes to see more.
Magee, 31, signed last month as a free agent with LA, quickly found in the club a path back to health, and is working hard on regaining fitness ahead of the February 24 opener, a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Santos Laguna at StubHub Center.
“It's awesome. It's comfortable,” said Magee, who spurred by a family issue left for the Chicago Fire in May 2013. “Saying I'm happy to be back is an understatement. ... Obviously, I had to leave, and there were reasons for that, took care of whatever was going on, and so it's great to be back.
“I wish I could have got back a little sooner, but the fact that I'm here and getting healthy and happy and bringing my family with me, it's everything.”
Magee spent almost four and a half seasons with the Galaxy, starting in 2009, scoring 30 goals in 149 competitive matches for the club, including six in the postseason runs to the 2011 and 2012 MLS Cup championships.
He spent a little more than two and a half years with the Chicago Fire, scoring 15 goals in 22 games in that tremendous first season -- after netting six for LA – to become just the second player to win MLS's Landon Donovan MVP Award with a team that did not reach the playoffs. Since then, lower-body injuries have limited him to 29 league games in two years.
He doesn't regret the move – he'd long hoped to return to Chicago, and that family matter made it necessary – but it wasn't the panacea he'd hoped for.
“You know what? I left home when I was 15, and at that point I was going into residency [with the US U-17 team in Bradenton, Fla.], and I thought it was a two-year program,” Magee said. “Straight from there, I got drafted by New York [Red Bulls, then the MetroStars, in 2003], and in the back of my mind, I kind of always wondered what was going on at home. What was I missing?
“It was great to get back there and kind of realize that Chicago's not going anywhere, and I got to spend some time with my family. Now I'm back where I belong.”
That's great news for the Galaxy, where Magee was a fan favorite, a clutch player, a complementary figure who made the bigger names around him better and one willing to do whatever was needed – even going between the pipes, as he did in San Jose five years ago.
“When chaos is circling, he's the calm in the storm,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan told MLSsoccer.com. “He's a guy that when things are flying, he can slow things down, and he's proven that in his career, in front of goal. No matter what the game demands, he's got the ability to throttle back, understand how to pace himself, and sort keeps everybody calm.”
Magee was hoping to go to the Galaxy when he became a free agent in December, and the feeling was mutual. He said they started talking December 8, the first day teams and players could talk, and had reached an agreement, for all intents, before the day was done.
“We were clearly looking to bring him in, and, obviously, there were concerns with the injuries,” LA coach Bruce Arena said. “But I think he's a guy that's worth taking a gamble on.”
Magee says he's the healthiest he's been in a long time.
“My hip had been bothering me for years, and the Galaxy staff were well aware of my hip issues, stemming from 2009,” he said. “It was a matter of time before I needed surgery, and shortly after the January  camp with the national team, the wheels starting falling off.”
He finally had surgery late that summer, after grinding through much of the MLS campaign, and then things went wrong.
“I came back feeling great,” he said, “and then I took a slight knock on my knee, and – long story short – we didn't get to the bottom of what the problem was, and what was really nothing kind of kept me out for almost three months.”
Magee saw only 360 minutes last season, over a dozen games, contributing but two assists as the Fire finished with a league-worst 30 points.
“[I didn't feel right] until I got here and started working [with the Galaxy's training staff],” he said. “Shunta [Shimizu, LA's chiropractor/scar tissue specialist] is a magician. He's working on me every day, and now my range of motion and flexibility and strength is as good as it's ever been. I think this is going to end up prolonging my career and allow me to play the way I've been able to, so I'm excited.”
He enjoyed his time with Chicago, even if things didn't go as hoped. The Fire didn't make the playoffs during his tenure, but playing at home had some very real positives.
“Believe it or not, the best part of being with the Fire is, honestly, it was the first soccer team I was a fan of,” Magee said. “Growing up, no one in my family played soccer – it was kind of a fluke thing [that I played]. I loved the [NBA's] Bulls and the [NFL's] Bears, and all of a sudden Chicago had a team, and for the first time in my life, I realized I had a career path.
“It was kind of weird to see, because everyone's a fan of Manchester United or Barcelona, and I didn't even know these teams existed. The Chicago Fire came around, and it was like I knew I was good, but, man, I could play at Soldier Field, where my Bears play, and I can be home and play in front of my family.”
He discovered that Southern California was home, too, and that he and his family – wife Kristen, soon to be 6-year-old daughter Keira and 6-month-old son Michael – needed to find their way back.
Now he's looking for minutes among a deep pool of attacking talent – Robbie Keane, Giovani dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes, Sebastian Lletget, Emmanuel Boateng, Alan Gordon, Jose Villarreal, Ignacio Maganto, Bradford Jamieson IV, Raul Mendiola – that might be stronger than the championship group he was part of a few years ago.
“He's a guy that wants to be on the ball, and I think we need more of those type of players,” said defender A.J. DeLaGarza, the longest-serving player on the roster. “Someone who can come and hold it up and make plays and bring people into the game. He's definitely a plus for the team we have right now.”