This week on the #AskASoccerPro Show we were joined by none other than my former teammate, Mike Magee! I’m very pleased to share our interview with you.
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* Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity
Quincy Amarikwa: What’s going on man? What’s been going on in your world in Chicago?
Mike Magee: Trying to deal with this winter, I’ve got a couple of kids, living the dream! Missing soccer a little bit but making do.
QA: How many years has it been since you’ve officially retired?
MM: The end of 2016 was my last season, so, what’s that, three years?
QA: I’m sure we’ll go into it a little bit more, but since then you’ve started your first company right? Sneaky Fox Vodka?
MM: Yeah, I started that company pretty quickly after I got done playing, I want to do a whiskey, but stumbled on vodka and have been doing that ever since.
QA: Once you officially hung up the boots and decided you’re going to go into the next chapter of your life, and settled on business, what made you want to go and start your own business as opposed to coaching or something like that?
MM: The goal was always to get back into soccer, and that’s still the dream and I want to do that. I thought that while I’m young and hungry it would be the best opportunity for me to take a stab at business. You know, kind of learn and see if I can make something happen. Financially, I didn’t have a ton saved up, but enough to have a little bit of fun and try out this business venture and see if I could make money to where maybe I don’t have to chase things. You know, the way I would if I just went right into soccer. So, I’m hoping to make that happen and make a real difference in soccer after.
QA: I was sharing a little bit earlier that the thing I was most impressed with about you as a person is your ability to be honest with yourself and know what it is that you wanted and go for it. More so on the field, because, like I was saying you’re not the most athletic or fastest guy…
MM: What?! [Laughing] Alright, I’ll give it to you.
QA: I think because of that you found a way to still excel at the game and I wanted to talk more about your mentality when you’re playing. Do you feel there are parallels on the business side?
MM: I mean, the one benefit to being slow and you know, not overly athletic is you have to figure things out another way. Sometimes, when I was a kid, I’d go up against these dudes, they were monsters, I’d always be scared and then sooner or later realize that’s why I had most of my success in MLS. The bigger, faster guy I was playing, they would just forget about me. Defensively I wasn’t a ball winner, but I was pretty sound in my positioning. It took a lot of pride not dominating defensively, but you know, I could get into good spots.
So, in the business world, my mentality… You know? I get great advice from my dad. He’s like, “I don’t care if it takes a day or a month, or a year or two years. Figure out what you want to do and then give it your all just like when you were playing soccer.” I knew pretty quickly I wanted to be in spirits, but you know, just give it my all. That’s been huge.
QA: What did you find to be the most difficult about soccer and what have you found to be the most difficult about business?
MM: Soccer, man, the amount of adversity people don’t see… Nine surgeries on my right leg, you know every day somebody is coming for your spot, you’ve got younger dudes, faster dudes, and stronger dudes. That constant battle, I kind of lived for it, but then at times when you aren’t healthy and it’s just like, “sh*t, just leave me alone man, let me have my spot and stop bothering me.” Fourteen years of that.
Then in business, the hardest thing is getting people to buy vodka. Obviously, there’s Tito’s, a lot of brands out there, but I’ve stuck with it and I’m pretty proud of where I am now. But I’ve got a way to go. It’s definitely a different world.
QA: I was thinking about my relationship with you and our friendship over time, and just like, playing on the field and then how that led to our friendship that we built off the field. I always remembered when you would talk to me and say, “look, Quincy, just focus on soccer man. Like if you just really focus on soccer you could do this.” I always appreciated when you said that because for me at least, it was an acknowledgment from you that you knew I was good enough and that I could do it. I always appreciated that, and it’s how I took the message. But, I also looked at it in terms of, I’m thinking long term, and although I’d love this to work out, I’m not seeing the opportunity of doing it the same way.
Now that you’re in the business world, what were you thinking about what I was doing then, and what do. You think about it now? Has your perspective changed?
MM: I was always super proud of everything you did and I think the one thing I’ve told you every time we speak is the amount of talent you have in your brain and your body, the ability, and your heart is second to none…. I think what I always challenged you with was the day you decide to do one thing, I think you’re gonna be the best in the world at it. In soccer, you know you’ve obviously had an incredible career and asserted yourself, you’re a great pro in this league. You’re killing it with everything you do. I was just like, “Quincy, if you just devote all this time to soccer, because afterward you go into the office and you’d be doing all your things.” If you don’t want to play soccer if you devoted yourself just to marketing or whatever you decide. Every time I talk to you and you have this incredible ability to do all these things. I’m just like, man if you did one of them.
Maybe the blessing and curse with me is that I can’t do all these things. I’ve got one thing. I’ve got to pick. I’ve got to take this one thing and I’m good at it. I work hard, and you know, I tie my shoes and go to work. I don’t believe in the shortcuts or anything like that. I just know you’re gonna kill it, but I feel like you would get there so much faster if you pick one thing. Listen, you’re doing it, you’re young and hungry and I feel like you’re successful and everything. But one day, you’re gonna look back and be like, “sh*t if I would’ve just done what we said ten years ago, I’d be the best in the world at this.”
QA: I always appreciated that and I knew what you’re saying and I heard you a thousand percent. I guess the reason why I didn’t go all-in on soccer. Even though I love to play and I want to pay, no matter what it’s gonna end in my mid or late 30s. I mean, maybe if we were EPL where these guys are making $5-10 million dollars a year then I’m like okay, I’m all in soccer, but, you know.
MM: By the way, that’s not my advice for everyone. My advice for 90% of guys I speak to is like, dude prepare yourself for whatever you’re doing next man. Give soccer your all but maybe start thinking about your future. I was never worried about your post soccer days. I was never worried and losing a night’s sleep being like, “what is Quincy gonna do when he’s done playing?” I know you’re gonna succeed.
I just think in my career I got to a point where after injuries and stuff I couldn’t. Post-2006, I had a little injury and really never was the same player, but obviously found some success and you know it changed my life forever. Where I was going with this, my point is that I just saw something in you where if you just devoted yourself to soccer…I think you’re having a great career, but my intention was ‘just focus on this and when. You’re done you’re gonna be great at something, just focus all your energy. I think I’m rambling and repeating myself, but you get the point.
QA: Now that you’re out and stuff we can talk about some of the stuff that happened back then.
MM: I just remember you yelling at me…
QA: What does Mike knows now that Mike didn’t know back then?
MM: A lot, a lot, like not to acting impulsively. But yeah, the topic you’re talking about I’ll avoid at all costs. Do they know what we’re talking about? I feel comfortable enough just mentioning what it was, but, obviously, in a locker room, there’s all different walks of life, races, ethnicities, you know. When messed up things would happen in the news, we would obviously talk in the locker room and I always had the opinion that we were all good people, so we’d all agree on things So, I’d want to touch on a race subject, and Quincy, anyone, will tell you, I don’t have a racist bone in my body, but… I shouldn’t be commenting on it. So, you taught me that in a situation where I wanted to say something, I should probably just stop talking.
QA: The point of it, which is really awesome because the theme of today was self-honesty, and this is what I always appreciated about you. I knew what your intentions were, and I knew what you meant in what you were saying. I’m someone who always wants to know the truth, even if it’s the most messed up thing in the world because then that gives me an opportunity to address it or improve. But not all things are like this, and this is the thing that took me a while to learn. Especially in playing, it was like, not every time is the right time to say something. And when there is nothing to gain from it, that’s when really hard to accept when. You’re young and hungry at certain times you know, you’re like “hey, no, I’m here and I’m right..”
MM: I think it took me like 48 hours and I came and gave you a big hug. I was like, dude thanks. I fact-checked this with a couple of other people too, and this would have maybe ended my career. This would have ended it.
QA: I’m thinking about all the stupid stuff we were doing. The Quincy Time episodes, the Mike Magee day off…
MM: I give us a lot of credit, because obviously I think everything would have been great if we were in a better situation with the club. I felt like the reason we really hit it off was through chaos and losses, you know when. You want to look around and see guys that you just go to battle with, we always knew we had each other. Whether we were frustrated with each other or someone else was winning more at the end of the day. Me and you were the two with the same mentality.
At the end of the game, me and you could walk off like, “dude we clearly aren’t good but, you know, good fight man.” I guess that’s all we had right there. The amount of respect we gained for each other. I think even though none of us were happy, we were one of the worst teams in the league but you earned a lot of respect in my book, purely just watching you fight and battle.
You learn a lot more about people when things such, when nothing’s going right. When I end up having a surgery and you’re looking around and people want to make excuses, and you know by all means we were probably complaining too but we walked on the field and we were fighting. It was everything.
QA: What I think you’re touching on a lot is mentality. I agree heavily with you that you really showcase who you are when things aren’t going well as opposed to when things are going great. What do you think is the greatest determining factor in your mentality and how you approach the game when things aren’t going well?
MM: Man, that’s a tough one. You know I made a lot of mistakes in this category. Some of the best moments of my life were where a lot of things were bad. I have regrets. I never quit on a team or quit on the field, but you know I remember sometimes with the Fire, where mentally I was gone. Looking back there was probably someone who needed me, and I regret it. I’ve had conversations even with Andrew Hauptman, apologizing to him. Listen, I’ll never apologize for anything I do on the field, but I truly believe that I handled that situation incredibly poorly and if I could go back and look at my time there I would have used that as the greatest opportunity ever to be a better role model, and I totally missed the opportunity.
There was a time with the Galaxy when our first couple of years we had a little bit of success, but I remember we weren’t playing well and I remember being an incredible example and a role model and fighting. When we had problems within the group, I was the guy who brought guys together. You know, whether it was Beckham or Landon fighting at times, I was the common link there. So I was on both ends of it. One of the biggest regrets of my career is probably that time in Chicago where I completely missed an opportunity. I was selfish. Maybe it was coming after MVP season or whatever, I was thinking I was scoring goals and maybe it got to my head, I’m not sure. But, you know, looking back at my career, it’s the one thing I wish I could take back.
QA: it’s funny because last week I was talking a little bit about vulnerability and admitting to mistakes. If we don’t acknowledge our mistakes, we don’t have the ability to reflect and learn from them and really apply those lessons later in life. I don’t think a lot of guys understand how difficult it is to admit when you’re wrong, especially when it comes to something that you might not be able to go back in time and address. Do you think being able to do it now is extremely valuable in your ability to kind of navigate moving forward?
MM: Those lessons are the best ones to learn and now going on in life I can think back to all the times people helped me. Listen, I’m not one of those stories you look back on and I’m patting myself on the chest. I’ve had help all along the way, my family’s been incredible, I got the best friends on the planet, I played with the best coaches… I’ve been blessed all along the way. Now I have an opportunity to give back and help other people, and like I said, with the Fire I didn’t, and I’m embarrassed by it, but in the future it’s gonna help me, because I’ll never miss another opportunity to help people. I wouldn’t be standing here without the people who helped me.
QA: What do you think is a reason most guys aren’t able to see that?
MM: I was selfish. I think I had waited so long to play forward, but I always told everyone I was a forward. Not that I needed the credit or validation, but I started scoring and, it’s not that I didn’t respect our coaches, but you know, I just came from the Galaxy where things were great. I thought I knew better. You can never forget your role, right? I’m not the coach, I don’t own the team. If we don’t give respect, if everyone can’t come together, then it could easily fall apart, which it did. I was in a position where I maybe could have gotten guys to come along and maybe we could add a different result.
QA: Hey, admitting your mistakes is part of the process, understanding that you need a team. The philosophy we have here is you and the team you build is all you need to get to wherever you want to be in life and soccer. I think the part that a lot of people miss out on is ‘the team you build.’ So those lessons you learned on the field, do you feel they ‘re helping you build a company that creates the culture. You know is necessary for success?
MM: Absolutely. As far as building the business, you know I probably need a few more years of school. But I enjoy learning the hard way and I think the biggest thing you learn is failing is fine, it’s acceptable. You learn if you do things the right way and you put the work in. I remember seasons where I put all the work in, I was in the gym and I was doing things the right way and then I had success. Then you remember when you know you’re cutting corners and maybe staying out too late, too often and you know those games you wouldn’t play well. It all applies to business time ten, because now I’m going against companies worth billions of dollars. That work ethic stays the same if not multiplies.
QA: When I was looking from the outside while you were playing for the Galaxy, I was thinking the reason you were as successful as you were was because of the attention the other high-level guys around you were attracting. As I was explaining to everyone, once I saw you in person and I was playing with you I realized I was completely wrong in my assumption. What do you feel playing around those guys gave you in terms of insight or understanding of the game?
MM: The two biggest things were, one, I was in the locker room from day one and I wasn’t scared. When I got on the field with them, I wasn’t scared So I earned the respect on the field by simply going at him or not caring who they were. Now, the other thing I think you know, was the biggest jump in quality I ever took in my career was the day when like, Robbie Keane came, and I started watching this man…when I’m surrounded by Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, David Beckham… I got to watch these guys and I remember almost my entire first season like literally watching these guys every day. I know its cliché, when you guys say watch this player…. I think my ability to be humble enough to realize that Robbie Keane is the player I would dream to be, or that David Beckham never takes a day off.
I have this ability to where I’m constantly trying to see how I can get better. I can’t run like Landon Donovan, but I’ll tell you what... I’d watch film, this man would take a corner kick, they’d counter-attack and he’d run 120 yards and block shots from six yards out. And I’m like, well, what’s my excuse for not doing these things. During my career, I was copying guys, learning, and figuring it out that way, because I couldn’t figure it out any other way.
QA: One thing that I pride myself a lot on is helping the younger guys learn the hard lessons faster so they can improve and get better, showcasing to them not to be so prideful that they’re not willing to learn. I’m on the field with Lucho and Wayne Rooney, and they’re taking free kicks and I’m just sitting on the ground cross-legged watching their technique. I’m gonna soak this up and learn as much as possible.
MM: Dude, it's perfect. I wish all Americans [soccer players] would have gotten the chance … these dudes, if young Americans could go play with these guys. One day when I’m coaching, I can’t wait to teach kids the things I didn’t learn until I was 24 years old. We have got to give something back man.
QA: When you were thinking on the field, were you thinking or just reacting?
MM: I was always thinking. I probably spent more time not necessarily thinking what I wanted to do, but what the game needed. I was never the guy who, when the game was three nothing, was going to score the fourth goal. I never did step over; I knew my place on the field. I consider myself a really high IQ player that was taught to find ways to win. Now, soccer is completely reactionary, but my thought process when I was on the field was purely about the game. I made myself that guy on the field where everyone on the field wanted me on the field. I eventually got to the point where I was covering for guys and then earning their respect and they were covering for me; then I couldn’t be off the field, they needed me on the field because of our cohesion. No one could replace that.
QA: That’s how I’ve approached the game too. Why do you think it can be difficult for coaches or decision-makers to recognize the value of those type of players?
MM: It’s a simple answer. No offense to anyone, but you know that the game has changed so much right? American soccer has changed ten times more than even soccer has changed, if not a hundred times. The older guys in this game in positions that hire or make decisions clearly don’t know as much about soccer as maybe… it’s the truth! I’ve had conversations with guys really high up and they’re talking about players that they put on a pedestal and I’m like, “dude, this guy? I would just kick this guy off my team.” You see it time and time again.
Then you realize what we’ve seen in the game since Beckham got here in 2006, I mean that’s thirteen years and the game has evolved so much. If you haven’t played it, seen it, if you’re just kind of sitting somewhere else, its hard. If you haven’t played the game at any level and not even coached overseas, and you know these guys have only coached in MLS and never played with guys like Robbie Keane or Wayne Rooney and now they’re trying to coach everyone together. If I hadn’t played with these guys I wouldn’t have ever known any of these things.
My opinion is, you know the guys still making decisions still don’t know. In one or two generations from now, I think the USA is gonna be really soccer savvy, but we’re just not there yet.
QA: I agree with you. I think the game and league has outgrown the level of education of the generation that has been bringing them up. Before the game was smash-and-grab, now you’re seeing a transition into a thinking game. Back then we were playing checkers and now the game is chess.
Thank you so much for joining in on the live, I know our audience is loving your insight! Is there anything you want to promote?
MM: Drink Sneaky Fox Vodka! No, but seriously I’ll come on the show anytime. Thank you for having me. I’m a huge fan and I can’t wait to see what you and your team are up to!
Check out Mike Magee's 'Sneaky Fox Vodka' here: