When Jason Kreis left for New York City FC and all the riches, fame and notoriety he took a piece of Real Salt Lake with him. He didn't take midfielder Ned Grabavoy, though.
Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales may well get most of the acclaim on RSL -- much of it deserved -- but Grabavoy is the worker bee who does a great deal of the dirty work on offense and defense to keep RSL in line.
When players talk glowingly about this game or that game or their performance, Grabavoy’s approach to the game never wavers. He never gives less than 120 percent on the field, he always is blunt but fair in post-game interviews and he never talks about his own game.
The Chicago native and product of youth super-club Chicago Magic came up the hard way. Like Kreis, Grabavoy wasn’t given an overabundance of natural ability or movie star looks, or even height. The only thing he got was a ball.
The 5-foot-7-inch, 150 pound took that cylindrical thing and translated it into a long stint on the Magic youth club, a Gatorade national player of the year award in high school and a three-year career at Indiana that included 18 goals and 21 assists in 42 starts.
But his professional career didn’t go as glowingly. In Los Angeles in his first season, he won his first MLS Cup -- yet was traded to Columbus two years later. After arriving at the Crew, Grabavoy again barely left the bench before being traded to San Jose.
He finally got playing time in Major League Soccer with the Quakes, playing in 21 of 24 games. Then he was waived.
Real Salt Lake picked him up in the MLS Waiver Draft in 2009 -- and the rest is history. Grabavoy has been with RSL ever since that fateful day in March 2009. Later that same year, Grabavoy knocked home one of five penalty kicks to lift his second MLS Cup trophy as a player, this time over his former team, the LA Galaxy.
Last year, Grabavoy enjoyed his best pro season ever for RSL, scoring five goals and notching five assists. In 11 games this season he’s in fine form, scoring one goal to go with two assists. At this current rate Grabavoy should surpass last year’s totals -- but there is an even bigger reason you have to love him.
When Grabavoy is out on the field, he's there--even if you don't always see him. He's like a second coach out on the field, in the trenches. He's leaping over ugly two-footed tackles and eating grass from menacing defenders while throwing his body into harm's way time and again. Like great "team players" he is never in the same spot twice and is always unpredictable for his opponents. Yet he rarely, if ever, makes a tactical error and his technical skills are above reproach.
Like his new coach Jeff Cassar, he has those Midwestern roots firmly planted and he wears his heart on his sleeve. So when he speaks -- like he did after RSL’s 2-1 win over the rival Colorado Rapids on Saturday, May 17 -- you are wont to listen. Here are five reasons he’s the club’s unofficial MVP.
“If you just look game-to-game in this league, they’re going to throw guys forward, and so now, you can draw it up and say that they run a 4-4-2, but are they? When both wingers press high, it’s almost 4 vs. 4, man to man across our back line. Really, they push their outside backs all the way into the midfield as well. It’s going to happen but it’s how we deal with it.”
“Obviously, we gave up the free kick goal again [against Colorado]. But maybe mentally for us, it was a good thing to have the last ten minutes to deal with that because we’ve had to deal with it this year, and we haven’t done well. So maybe that’s a little bit of a learning block for us going forward.”
“I thought it was one of the best games we’ve played all year. I think that when everyone understands their role, their job, and the definition of what they’re [sic] role is, I think you see great things from this team. Tonight, I saw eleven players and guys that came on who completely understood their role, what was asked of them. I don’t think that there are any questions on this team for anybody that doesn’t understand the definition of their role. And so you look at the three players that step in tonight – three guys that haven’t played as much for us this year with Devon [Sandoval], Cole [Grossman], and Jeff [Attinella] – three guys that step in and completely understand their role. I thought from all eleven players that no one tried to do anything too much. We all played simple and the game just opened up for us, especially in the first half. For me, I thought it was one of our better performances of the year.”
“I think usually we always have a difficult stretch to start the season. We’re usually asked to play four of five on the road to start or six of eight on the road to start because of the weather here. Usually, we’re going into some tough places and playing against two home-openers on the road. I think that we’re starting to see ourselves a little bit on the road – being able to play more of our game than maybe we have in the past. There are still plenty of things to work on, especially dealing with a lead – that’s probably the number one thing for us.”
“…But at the same time we’ve been creating a ton of chances. We’ve been really good in front of goal for the most part with those chances. I think when we bring the energy and we’re organized and all those things we’re going to get chances and we’re going to score goals. So we feel confident going on the road and playing at home. Anytime you’re on a streak like this, you’re obviously getting some bounces and some luck. We’re getting that but I think we are creating that ourselves a little bit as well.”