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Fire’s Mike Magee getting back on track

Chicago Fire forward Mike Magee reacts after scoring against Real Salt Lake during first half an MLS soccer game Saturday

Chicago Fire forward Mike Magee reacts after scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of an MLS soccer game on Saturday, May 3, 2014, at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. Real Salt Lake won 3-2, remaining unbeaten against the winless Fire. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

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Mike Magee has transformed from a pretty good MLS player to its most valuable. He’s gone from somebody just trying to get back to his hometown team to becoming the face of that franchise. His contract — once moved as part of a deal with implications beyond soccer — was the subject of much speculation and conjecture this offseason.

And all that has happened to Magee since he was acquired by the Fire from the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 25, 2013. Now 12 months removed from that trade, the trajectory of Magee’s career has been forever changed.

“It’s crazy to look back now and realize it’s already been a year,” Magee said. “I think it’s all kind of happened pretty fast, and especially after trying to get back here for about 13, 14 years. To finally be here, it still feels like it just happened yesterday.”

Magee was acquired from the Galaxy for Robbie Rogers’ rights after Rogers announced he was gay and retired from soccer. He then un-retired and said he wanted to play in Los Angeles. Upon arriving in Chicago, Magee scored in four consecutive games and helped revive the Fire’s season, dragging them into playoff contention and earning the MVP award.

Then there was the offseason, which wasn’t quite as smooth. Magee was supposed to earn his first national-team appearance but missed out with food poisoning. He then reportedly held out of Fire training camp for a bigger deal, although the team insisted he was absent because of “personal issues.”

“I’m a really active and busy person, so I feel like, obviously, this [offseason] was a little more eventful. More traveling and speculation,” Magee said. “Those things, luckily for myself, it’s never really gotten to me too much.”

His season also started slowly. Magee was hampered by a hamstring injury and didn’t play in the Fire’s first two games. He didn’t score until April 5 against the Philadelphia Union, a game in which his saved penalty kick denied the Fire (2-2-6) their first win.

But things have improved since then. His new contract — one that, according to the players’ union, netted him $417,500 annually — was announced April 10. He’s scored three times in the Fire’s last three games, and the team has won two straight heading into its match Saturday at the Columbus Crew (3-4-4).

“He’s only going to get better. I think that it might have been slower than everybody’s expecting,” captain Jeff Larentowicz said. “He was red hot at the end of the year, and fans and everybody expect that to continue. But with time off and change of personnel and coaching, things can cool for a player. He might have been a little cooled off at the beginning of the year, but I think it’s going to pick up.”

Magee said the heightened expectations and raised profile haven’t changed him.

“I know a lot of guys say it, but it hasn’t changed anything with my habits or the way I see things or see myself,” Magee said. “At the lowest times, when people are bashing me, I felt like I was just as confident as when everyone’s been hyping me up. Nothing’s changed.”

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