For the second straight season, the Chicago Fire will open up their MLS regular season campaign in Carson, Calif. Sunday (2:00 p.m. CT on UniMas).
Though Sunday’s backdrop will be the same as last year’s disappointing 4-0 defeat to the LA Galaxy, everything else seems different.
The Home Depot Center is now known as Stub Hub Center. Chivas USA is the opponent. Frank Yallop is the team’s new head coach and perhaps most importantly the Fire have Mike Magee, the Galaxy’s hat trick hero in that match, on their side this time.
Magee begins his first full season with the Fire on Sunday but remembered well the three goals that sent him on his way to a breakout MLS MVP campaign in 2013.
“Last season I got off to a pretty good start,” Magee said via phone from LA on Thursday. “Unfortunately it was against the Fire but at the time like every other year I’m always so anxious to get started on the right foot.”
Magee’s hat trick against the Fire was part of the six goals he scored before being dealt to his hometown club in exchange for Robbie Rogers in late May. His arrival in Chicago provided an immediate boost for a side that got off to its worst start in club history, something last year’s team took all season to correct only to come up one point short of an MLS Cup playoff spot.
The disappointing end to 2013 has stayed with Magee and his teammates throughout the offseason and drawing on his experience winning two MLS Cups in LA, it’s a feeling he’s looking to avoid from the start this season.
“You have to get off to a good start,” he said. “Momentum in this league is huge and in LA we had one goal: win championships. This year it’s identical. My one and only goal is to win games for this team. If I score three goals every game, that’s great. If I score zero goals and we win a cup I’d be 10 times happier than I was last year.”
Three points on Sunday would give the Fire its first season opening win since a 3-1 victory over FC Dallas in 2009. With a visit to Portland next week before welcoming Supporters Shield champions New York on March 23, a victory will also prove crucial to the team’s early season chances.
That all could hinge on how much Magee plays on Sunday. Having spent just over a week in camp with the Fire, Yallop said last week that he was playing “fitness catch-up” with the rest of his teammates.
While he may not be able to go 90 minutes, Magee told reporters Monday he “began preseason four months ago” in preparation for January’s U.S. Men’s National Team camp.
He left no doubt as to whether he felt fit enough to start on Sunday.
“Yes, absolutely I’m ready to start. Frank’s got a lot of difficult decisions to make. Unfortunately I’ve only been with the team days here and there this preseason, I understand whatever decision comes from him. I hope I play every minute of every game this year but ultimately Frank’s has to do what’s best for the team. My role is to be the best teammate I can and play as hard as I can when he calls my number.”
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