By Zac Lee Rigg – LOS ANGELES, CA (Nov 2, 2012) US Soccer Players — It's playoff season in Major League Soccer, which means that teams are duking it out in knockout competition and also that Mike Magee is in scorching form. Very few MLS players – if any – have his ability to switch on the form for the biggest, most meaningful games. Case in point: the 28-year-old scored a scintillating volley to spark the LA Galaxy's comeback against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Knockout Round on Thursday.
“It's what he does. It's what Mike does,” David Beckham said. “He gets in position. He's a clever player. He's a really intelligent player.”
Beckham set up three Magee playoff goals last season. He had a hand in this one too. After winning a corner, Beckham quickly took the set piece short to Juninho who lofted the ball into the box. The Whitecaps failed to track Magee's late run. From the penalty spot, Magee side-volleyed toward goal. His hands stretched outward in celebration almost before the ball nestled in the net.
“I don't practice that often,” Magee admitted, about the impressive volley. Maybe, but he sure looked composed doing it.
The strike helped the Galaxy roar back from a fourth-minute Darren Mattocks opener to win 2-1. Both LA goals came within four minutes in the second half, with Landon Donovan clinching a penalty shortly after Magee's equalizer.
The cathartic equalizing goal was the Chicago native's sixth in the last 12 playoff matches. Aside from last year's three goals in the first three playoff games to push the Galaxy into the MLS Cup Playoff final, Magee scored two goals in four games in the Galaxy's run to the final in 2009. In each of the last two regular seasons, Magee has scored five goals during the regular season. Now he has five goals in the last six playoff matches.
So what's the secret? Magic? A change in diet? How does he do it? “I don't know,” Magee said. “I have no idea.”
It's not an eerie calm. Magee isn't immune to the butterflies before big games. “I feel it,” Magee said. “I'm so much more nervous for these games than I am any other.” It's not as if he takes it easy all year only to start trying come the postseason. “I try to score in the regular season too,” he said.
Either way, his teammates appreciate being able to rely on him when the ante is upped. Beckham's flat crosses have a far-post runner to aim at. And the rest of the squad has a benchmark for form and toil to aspire toward.
“He's the type of player that shines in moments like this,” captain Donovan said. “There's something special about players like that. A lot of guys do it when the games don't matter, or they'll score the third goal in a 3-0 win. Mike scores goals that matter, and he's done it consistently since he's been here.”
Heading into the playoffs this year, Magee wasn't even a guaranteed starter. He sat the bench for the last Galaxy regular season match, only coming in for the final 15 minutes against the Seattle Sounders, replacing midseason acquisition and Swedish international Christian Wilhelmsson.
The frantic, end-to-end game was creeping toward a scoreless draw when Magee took over. He pushed the ball forward to Robbie Keane and bent a run toward the box. Keane laid the ball off and Magee swerved a low, left-footed shot into the bottom corner of the goal from 20 yards out.
“I knew he was going to score the other night, against Seattle, because it's coming up to the playoffs,” Beckham said. “He likes to get on a roll.”
That form and big-game mentality meant that general manager and head coach Bruce Arena was unlikely to leave Magee on the bench even if Wilhelmsson had been fit to face Vancouver.
“Mike's a winner,” said Arena, who also worked with Magee at the New York Red Bulls, before trading a second round SuperDraft pick to bring him to Los Angeles. “He's a very competitive guy. He likes to be on the field in tough games and he's responded well.”
Rest assured Arena and the Galaxy will lean on Magee in the next two games as well: against the San Jose Earthquakes in the Western Conference semifinal. Magee has four goals and two assists in 17 career games versus the 'Quakes.
The three California Clasicos this season featured 16 goals. Expect more in the next two. Also, because this is the MLS Cup Playoffs, expect Magee's name to be on a couple of them.
Zac Lee Rigg is a Senior Editor of Goal.com.
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