By OMAR SHAMOUT
CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy stormed into the 2013 season with a 4-0 rout of the Chicago Fire, including three superb left-footed strikes from forward Mike Magee.
The 28-year-old forward scored the first hat-trick of his career while filling in up front in the absence of Landon Donovan.
“It was cool,” Magee said post game in typical understated fashion, amidst shouts of “Magee!” from Galaxy players and staff in the locker room.
His first came in the 38th minute after Todd Dunivant floated a cross into the box that deflected off Fire defender Steve Kinney. The ball flew directly into Magee’s path, and he volleyed it past Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
Magee, a Chicago native, praised the awareness of his teammate on the edge of the penalty area.
“Todd [Dunivant] played me a brilliant ball,” Magee said. Dunivant earned an assist on the play.
The second came 68 minutes into the game after Robbie Keane looked to have blown a Galaxy scoring opportunity in front of goal. An onrushing A.J. DeLaGarza played it to the Irishman, who juked his way into the penalty area, but ran into two Fire defenders. He was able to collect the ball, however, and found a wide-open Magee to his right. Magee easily cut inside of Chicago’s Gonzalo Segares and placed it beautifully into the top left corner of Johnson’s net.
“Robbie did well to slip me,” Magee said, describing his teammate as “a different class.”
The third came thanks to some nifty play by Keane in the 74th minute. He sealed off Chicago midfielder Austin Berry on a DeLaGarza throw in that landed inside the Fire penalty area. He bore down on goal, but Johnson saved the shot. Fortunately for the Galaxy, Magee ran onto the deflection, chested the ball down, and struck it across Johnson’s goal. The hat trick was complete.
“My left foot wasn’t missing today,” Magee said.
After his third, Magee paid homage to his attack partner by performing an underwhelming version of Keane’s trademark cartwheel celebration, which Magee admitted was “absolutely terrible.”
Magee usually saves his best efforts for the MLS playoffs, but with Donovan out of the lineup until some time in April, he will have plenty more opportunities to impress as a forward. Magee said after the game that he and Keane have always clicked when paired together up top for the Galaxy.
“We’re not a conventional strike partnership with us being not the biggest of dudes and liking [the ball] at our feet, but it’s always worked fine,” Magee said. “Today was more of the same.”
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena praised his forward pair after the game, but admitted Magee started slowly. “His second half was really good, “Arena said. “I don’t think his first 30 minutes were as good as I’d like to see.” But Arena was reluctant to criticize his forward too much. “I don’t want to get on the wrong side of Magee, because he could get me fired at this point,” Arena joked.
Keane finally got in on the scoring action in the 80th minute. Marcelo Sarvas played a cross into the box following a short corner kick from Magee, his ball finding Omar Gonzalez’ head at the back post. The defender nodded it to Keane in front of goal, who knocked the ball home. After the goal, Keane showed the 20,154 on hand at the Home Depot Center how the cartwheel is supposed to be done. But the 32-year-old complimented his teammate’s performance in the season opener, noting how crucial it was to avoid a similar start to last season.
“[Magee] is vitally important to this team, and he showed that today,” Keane said. “It was a good start to the season, exactly what we wanted.”
Magee also noted how heavily the specter of last season’s poor start weighed on the players’ minds. “We were so concerned with not starting how we started last year,” Magee said.
The Galaxy sported a new look midfield to open the season too, with, with new acquisition Colin Clark starting in left midfield and Sean Franklin moving up from his usual right back role. DeLaGarza slotted in at right back with a healthy Leonardo partnering Gonzalez in the center of defense.
Juninho and Sarvas were strong in the middle of the pitch, allowing LA to control nearly 57 percent of possession. The duo initiated much of the Galaxy’s attack with crisp passing, punctuated by numerous one-two combinations around the edge of the Chicago penalty area.
“It’s the way we have to play,” Sarvas said. “Playing short, not passing long balls.”
The David Beckham era seems to be well and truly over in Los Angeles.