Last spring, when Mike Magee was shipped to Chicago in exchange for the rights to Robbie Rogers, Galaxy fans were understandably surprised.
At the time Magee was in prolific form, while Rogers had just announced a desire to return to the game after coming out as gay. And though Rogers had been training with the team for weeks, the timing of the move was peculiar. Why Magee, and why now? Something wasn't adding up.
Then news surfaced that shed new light on the trade. In a thank you letter to the supporters, Magee revealed he had been seeking a move back home to Chicago for personal reasons.
"This entire club has given me everything that I could have ever wished for, including allowing me the opportunity to return to my home of Chicago. This was not an easy decision for me and my family, but it is what we feel is for the best and I am appreciative to both the Galaxy and the Fire to helping facilitate this request"
Magee's words were strongly echoed by Bruce Arena.
"If Mike didn't want to do this, I would not have done it. [It is] that simple. I have a long history with Mike and I have the greatest respect for him and his family and his personal concerns. To me, that's what slants the deal."
And many of his teammates, including Landon Donovan.
"When you look at it from a human being perspective, it was the right decision for Mike, it was the right decision for Robbie. For me, all the other stuff doesn't matter.
If the fans don't like it, I think that they should possibly try to understand the full situation and understand what both people are going through."
And yet, this message failed to resonate with Galaxy fans. Rather, the trade sparked a major backlash. Fans raged on forums and comment sections. Some blamed Bruce. Others blamed the FO, or the league, claiming the trade was a publicity stunt. Many even called it the worst trade in Galaxy history.
Look, there's no denying the trade was hard on Galaxy fans who had fallen in love with Magee over the years. After all, you don't get your own Ferris Bueller themed parody for nothing.
But the trade was also a smart, calculated move that in the long run has paid off for LA.
At first, the trade appeared one sided in favor of Chicago. Magee scored in game after game, enjoying newfound life as one of the league's biggest stars. On the other hand, Robbie Rogers struggled to get match fit, and when he got on the field, did not make much of an impact. When Magee captured the MVP award at the end of the season, Galaxy supporters could be forgiven for feeling hard done by.
However, all of Magee's success glosses over the reality that there was never an ideal position for him in the Galaxy lineup. Magee has never really had the mobility to play on the wing, and though he is deadly around the box, him and Robbie Keane did not form a truly scary partnership. Organized defenses were capable of containing the two.
Bruce knew this. By trading away a proven commodity in Mike Magee, he was taking a risk that much hyped Homegrown signing Gyasi Zardes would develop sooner rather than later. True enough, Zardes had difficulty scoring in 2013, as the rookie had trouble composing himself in front of goal, and was simply abysmal at times. It was obvious the 6' 2" forward had massive potential, he just needed to develop his soccer IQ and become a better finisher.
(Easier said than done)
2014 however, has been a completely different story.
The word is out Zardes has spent long hours on the training ground working on his finishing, and it appears the hard work has paid off. Now 4th in the league with 16 goals, Gyasi has come into his own, taking the scoring burden off Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan. His package of size, speed and strength is a handful for opponents, forcing defenders to prioritize his movement and giving Keane precious space to operate.
Zardes is still a work in progress, but his maturation has been vital for LA's offensive dominance.
Carlo Cudicini Robbie Rogers, the oft criticized scapegoat for a forgettable 2013 season? After finally settling into the left back position, Robbie has been a revelation. Rogers' defensive performances have been stellar, but his strong two way play has given the Galaxy possession and purpose on the left channel.
Importantly, Rogers, along with Dan Gargan, have added another dimension to the Galaxy attack.
How good has Rogers been? Robbie Keane thinks he should be on the national team.
"I'm sure if Mr. Klinsmann was a very, very good manager and watching the games, there's no question [Rogers] should certainly be in the [US national team] squads. I don't know when the next game is, but he certainly should be looked at because he's been brilliant. That's how much he's been on, if I'm touting that he should be in the national team."
(Keane sure knows how to lobby for a teammate, by the way)
Meanwhile, if 2013 was a dream year for Mike Magee, 2014 has been nothing less than a nightmare. After missing the chance to earn his first U.S. camp after suffering from food poisoning, Magee sat out the beginning of the season, signed a new deal, then went on to have an ineffective year hobbled by injuries and minor setbacks.
Magee still managed to score seven times, but never seemed to get into a rhythm, and worryingly, did not look like the same player.
So in the end, was the Magee Rogers trade worth it for the Galaxy? Absolutely.
In retrospect, how many fans would be willing to take back Magee at the expense of Gyasi's development and Robbie's play at left back? Without significant game time last year, does Zardes still score 16 times? It's doubtful. Conversely, it would be painfully revisionist to suggest Magee could match his production. I'm not so sure the Galaxy are challenging for the Supporter's Shield right now without Robbie Rogers either.
For a team that fans across the league like to stereotype as old, at 23 and 27, Zardes and Rogers are measurably younger than the 30-year-old Magee. And considering Gyasi ($198,000) and Robbie ($167,500) take up less salary cap space than Mike Magee ($413,000) combined, it appears the trade was good business for LA as well.
By ripping off the proverbial Band-Aid and trading away Mike Magee last year, the Galaxy have ultimately strengthened their squad this season, making the leap from ordinary title contenders to the scariest team in the league. Maybe even in MLS history.
And for that, Bruce and the team deserve a ton of credit.