Mike Magee wasn’t expecting the LA Galaxy’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes on June 25, 2011 to be one of the defining moments of his career, but the events of that day will stay with him forever.
The California Clasico between the Galaxy and San Jose took a strange turn in the 21st minute when Quakes forward Ryan Johnson collided with LA goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts resulting in a fractured left ulna for the Jamaican shot stopper. But those actions would be pale in comparison to what happened less than 20 minutes later when a questionable red card for goalkeeper Josh Saunders forced Magee between the pipes. Although he was completely inexperienced at the position, Magee made three astounding saves to help the Galaxy keep a scoreless draw against San Jose.
This Sunday, the Galaxy will return to Buck Shaw Stadium for the first time since that fateful day, but Magee knows that the events of last June will stick with him forever.
“It was interesting, to say the least,” Magee told LAGalaxy.com. “The amount of attention that incident got and the laughs that I’ve gotten for it and all the good times, funny comments, and interaction with the fans, it all has a lot to do with that. It’s always going to be special for the rest of my career and beyond.”
While the moment may remain a part of Magee’s career forever, the 28-year-old admits that the event passed by in a flash.
When Saunders was red carded, Magee’s teammates surrounded referee Juan Guzman, the man who showed Saunders the red after instigation from San Jose’s Steven Lenhart. However, while his teammates questioned the referee, Magee ran to head coach Bruce Arena.
“I think I was just the closest guy to him after it happened, Bruce was having choice words with the ref, and I was just standing next to him, and it finally caught my attention that someone had to play goalkeeper,” said Magee. “I looked at him and asked, ‘Bruce, who is going to play goalie?’ I can’t even say his words at the moment, but then I said, alright ‘I’ll go in.’”
Associate Head Coach Dave Sarachan was there to witness the whole conversation.
“He immediately stepped up said ‘I got to be the guy,’” said Sarachan. “We all kind of looked around and said, ‘really?’ Here’s a five-foot-whatever skinny guy going into the goal, but he took it upon himself and said that I have to take the goal here.”
As Magee headed into the net, the midfielder donned Saunders’ large jersey and gloves as the red carded 'keeper delivered a quick 30-second pep talk with a simple message “keep the ball out of the goal.”
Once play resumed, Magee admits that the rest of the half passed by in a flash as he stood in goal for the last two minutes of the opening half. However, once Magee stepped into the Galaxy dressing room during halftime, the magnitude of it all hit him at full force.
“When I decided to play goalie, I figured I could play ‘til the end of the first half, and that was all I was thinking,” said Magee. “At halftime, I thought we’d have a better plan than just sticking me back out there— which is what happened. But I remember sitting there at half, and Bruce was saying that we have to block shots because we got Mike in there. That’s when it hit me that I can’t make any mistakes.”
And Magee did just that. Despite dealing with nerves, Magee made three saves including an MLS Save of the Week award winner in the 89th minute when he stopped a Lenhart shot just inches from the goal line to hold the match a scoreless draw. Although it wasn’t pretty, Magee had earned the shutout.
“I don’t think he knew what he was doing,” said defender Todd Dunivant with a smile. “But he did it.”
While Magee doesn’t remember much about that fateful day, he remembers the reaction of the traveling Galaxy fans.
“I remember the fans to the left [of my goal], they were great because they were having some fun,” said Magee. “They were probably the ones that got me through it because they were doing chants the whole time, so that was pretty cool.”
In the minutes and hours after the match, word of Magee’s feat spread throughout American Soccer.
Even though the match took place on the same day as the Gold Cup Final that saw Mexico erase an early two-goal deficit to defeat the United States 4-2 at the Rose Bowl, it was Magee who was the talk of social media.
A hashtag #MikeMageeFacts and parody Twitter accounts were created for the forward as Galaxy fans began to see him in a light reserved for Chuck Norris rather than an MLS role-player. But the fans weren’t the only ones in on the fun.
“They teased him big time,” said a smiling Sarachan of the team’s reaction to Magee’s feat. “Mikey downplayed it, but every day in training we’d say, ‘Mike, you’ve got to go over with the goalkeepers’, and he was pretty good about taking it.”
The impact of the match wasn’t solely felt on the Galaxy side; however, as the inability to score on the plucky field player sent shockwaves through the Earthquakes dressing room.
“I think that the players were a bit embarrassed, and the fans just thought, ‘oh my gosh, we couldn’t score,'” said Earthquakes television analyst Kelly Gray. “On the managerial side, they saw that, and they thought, we need guys that are going to take chances, and that’s part of why they’ve [revamped their roster].”
A YEAR LATER
More than a year removed from the incident, Magee attests that after an initial week or two of attention, “nothing has really changed,” but evidence would suggest otherwise.
If Magee became a fan favorite for his goalkeeping stint, the midfielder turned goalkeeper elevated to cult hero status with Galaxy fans during the 2011 postseason, scoring in both legs of the Western Conference Semifinal Series against New York and again in the Western Conference Championship against Real Salt Lake. Time and time again, Magee scored clutch goals as LA earned their third MLS Cup championship—a run that many in the organization believe truly began on the field at Buck Shaw last June.
Indicative of his relationship with the fans, Magee was placed among MLS’ 25 top-selling jerseys, rubbing elbows with the likes of David Beckham and Thierry Henry by coming in at No. 23.
When the Galaxy take the field against the league-leading Earthquakes—a team now known for their bravery and willingness to take chances—this Sunday, it is extremely unlikely that Magee will be asked to perform an encore of his heroics, but that doesn’t mean LA doesn’t have faith that he could repeat.
“Hopefully, Mike doesn’t have to play goalie,” said Sarachan. “But if he does, then he has experience now so we’ll trust him.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and on contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com