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Ambition Leeds Grella to Europe

Grella (DukeSportsInformation)    

                                     Photo courtesy Duke University

BY DYLAN BUTLER

A few days removed from his lifelong dream becoming reality, Mike Grella returned to his family's Glen Cove, L.I. home. But the former Duke University standout won't be there for long. He's off to England on Friday and he's not looking back.

"I'm so excited about it, in terms of getting in there, settling in and working hard every day in training," Grella said in an exclusive interview with SBI. "I waited for a really long time to have my job be playing soccer, to wake up, train well, take care of myself and do well. I'm just excited about the whole situation."

The 22-year-old forward signed an 18-month contract with English League One squad Leeds United at the January transfer deadline following a successful two-week trial. He returned home to collect a few things, to see some friends and family and will fly back on Friday morning to begin his professional career.

While Grella will be in the air soon, his head is not in the clouds.

"It feels great, but at the same time while it feels like I've accomplished a lot in my college career and I've finally made a professional team, I've done nothing on the professional scene yet," Grella said. "My feet are definitely grounded, although it does feel really good. I'm very focused on doing well for the team. That's the most important thing."

Grella, who holds an Italian passport, wowed Leeds manager Simon Grayson during his trial, scoring a hat trick for the Leeds reserves in a 4-0 victory against Barnsley at Elland Road. That performance also drew the attention of several Championship scouts in the stands, but Grella wasn't about to rest after that magical outing.

"I just remember after the match thinking about the next day, thinking about what I had to do to continue doing well and continue trying to convince them that I deserved a contract," he said.

Grella toyed with the idea of going pro after his junior year at Duke. He had a few oversees options and Major League Soccer offered a Generation adidas contract. Instead he returned for his senior year, a decision that, while he admits he had mixed emotions about at the time, he doesn't regret.

"I was 100 percent confident I'd have this opportunity afterward," Grella said. "If I didn't feel that way I would have definitely gone and done something after my junior year. I'm excited that I did (come back) because I finished school so it's the best of both worlds."

Grella, who was named a first-team All-American after leading Duke with 14 goals and eight assists, was again offered an MLS contract. This time, he said, it was harder to pass up.

"It's weird because first I said I'd never play in MLS because I wanted to play in Europe. That was my dream, something I wanted to pursue," Grella said. "But when MLS came across with such a good offer considering I was a senior and, at the time, Europe was a very big gamble, it was certainly enticing at the time. But I'm glad it worked out this way."

Grella didn't go into specifics about what MLS offered, but sources say it was a deal in the low six figures. As for his contract at Leeds, Grella only said, "it's a lot better."

"It was a phenomenal contract from MLS," Grella said. "But Leeds is, both competitive-wise and financially, a better decision for me."

Grella hasn't shut the door completely on playing in MLS and Toronto FC, which selected him in the third round of last month's MLS SuperDraft, holds his rights for two years. But right now Grella's sole motivation is success at Leeds and helping the club gain promotion to the Championship.

"One day I'd love to come back and play in MLS," Grella said. "I don't have anything against MLS at all, but the dream of playing in Europe, the fans there are so much more passionate and it's so much more real to me."

As for those who are critical of Grella's decision to play in a lower division in England than the top-flight soccer in America, Grella doesn't give that thought much credence.

"Someone who can't undertand the decision of bypassing the MLS to go to a lower division team like Leeds, I think doesn't really know much about the game," he said. "Leeds is a fantastic club, a Premiership club in the wrong division."

While some have suggested playing in Europe will be a better road for him to play for the U.S. National Team, Grella, who was a regular on the U.S. Under-18 squad a few  years ago and had some caps with the U-20s, said those things will take care of themselves.

"I didn't really think about the national team when I made my decision," he said. "I just thought that wherever I went, if I played well and worked hard enough that the national team would one day call."

One person who isn't surprised that Grella has gone this far in his career is David Price, who first coached Grella at the age of 12. Price coached him on the Albertson Storm, the Storm Academy and the New York Red Bulls Under-20s.

Price said the skill was evident from a young age, but Grella just needed to hone his ability to benefit the team. And when Grella scord the winning goal in the Jefferson Cup on the U-16 level, Price knew that Grella had a chance of playing professionally.

"He hit it from 25 yards out and he hit it like a pro," Price said. "The pace of the shot, the direction of the shot and the eventual goal was something I haven't seen on that level. Once he hit that, it just convinced me even more that Michael could be a pro player."

That's a reality now for Grella, who is ready to take the challenge, like the Leeds trial, with both hands.

"I know those trials are difficult because they last a week and a half, two weeks and every day is like your last day," Grella said. "Every day I went out to training I didn't have time to think about adapting to things, there was no room for excuses. I just went out there and worked my ass off, played well and did what I know how to do."

Comments

  1. With all due respect I could not disagree more with this statement, he’s selling a lot of American fans short here. I wish him the best, but he must not know much about Leeds’ recent history. If Leeds were a Premiership club in the “wrong division” they wouldn’t still be down in League One only 5 years after they were relegated out of the top flight.

    Posted by: kpugs

    _________________

    With all due respect you are who he was talking.

    Judging from your statement you have no idea about Leeds history in the past 5 years. I don’t have the time to educate you on all of it but last year they had 15 points deducted (f**k off to the football league) and still getting to the playoff final but sadly lost to Doncaster 🙁

    Leeds can get around 26k as everyone has mentioned, the stadium fits 40k & when they got promoted will open those seats if needed.

    Put all that together with the money and MLS can’t even come close to matching that.

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  2. Good for him. Leeds is a powerhouse in England, although they are in League One. They will be promoted to the Championship next year and have a passionate fan base.

    If I had the choice to play in front of 10,000 passionate fans in a soccer climate with GREAT coaches, or play in front of 20,000 fans who sit in their seats scared to death to sing or stand up, in a place where soccer is the last thing on everyone’s mind for OKAY coaches, I think I’ll choose the former.

    Good for him, does anyone know if he was born in Italy? Or if he just has a passport for the country? I’m a bit confused about that. If we lose another quality player who can fight for a starting spot on our 11, I will be pissed off.

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  3. I used to attend quite a few Brentford matches while they were in the old 2nd Division (previously the 3rd division, currently league 1). I’d put the quality of play at about equal to MLS. Same make up of players, too– young talents on the way up, older stars on the way down, the occasional unproven foreigner. Attendance was more in the under 10k range.

    That being said, Grella is mostly correct about Leeds. Remember, this is THE club in England’s 4th largest city. If they reach promotion, they’ll be playing at a higher level of competition than MLS. Add that to the money and it’s a no brainer.

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  4. Caldwell is correct on USMNT front. Grella is 22 years old and as he has already played for US U-18s and U-20s he CANNOT play for any other nation. He would have had to have made that decision by his 21st birthday.

    He’s all ours boys….

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  5. Did Grella spat on your faces?

    It’s quite sad when you’d rather have a man take a paycut so that your MLS viewing would be satisfied.

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  6. Jaystick – Leeds -of League 1 – has an average attendance this year of 21,475 per game. They’ve drawn over 30,000 twice. By comparison the Red Bulls – of MLS – averaged 16,967 last year. And with their road support they average much more than the games you reported – just under 10,000 with many over 10,000.

    The fact that it’s LEEDS does make a difference. NOw if you want to talk about how ugly the kit is…that’s another story.

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  7. lets not suck off league 1 too much…

    Bristol Rovers 0 Colchester United 0

    Attendance 6,634

    Cheltenham Town 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 2

    Attendance 3,597

    Leicester City 4 Huddersfield Town 2

    Attendance 21,311

    Northampton Town 5 Crewe Alexandra 1

    Attendance 4,675

    Oldham Athletic 3 Stockport County 1

    Attendance 7,605

    Scunthorpe United 2 Leyton Orient 1

    Attendance 4,230

    Southend United 0 Yeovil Town 1

    Attendance 6,409

    Tranmere Rovers 4 Carlisle United 1

    Attendance 5,924

    Walsall 1 Hereford United 1

    Attendance 4,438

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/football_league/article5587283.ece

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  8. Correct me if I’m wrong, but a youth-capped player can’t switch sides after his 21st birthday I think.

    Also, there’s another advantage to League One over MLS. He’ll get chances to impresses bigger clubs in the FA and League Cups. Plus, they’re a small surge away from competing in the Colaship next year. Good Move.

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  9. How dare MLS only offer this kid a 6-figure contract, when will this league get rid of its stupid pay scale? He deserves DP money!?!?11one

    Good move for him money wise, but I don’t he’ll ever rise above being a league 1 player.

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  10. The kid had a dream to play in Europe. What’s wrong with that?

    And he’s getting more money to boot (pun intended). Everyone needs to chill a little. The fact that scouts from higher leauges saw him in his very first game – FOR THE RESERVES – is just another reason for him to choose League 1 over the MLS. We don’t even have a reserve league for scouts from bigger clubs to watch. More doors are open to him. Period. Pretty smart move IMO.

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  11. Good article, b/c it clears up several misconceptions about MLS as well as the mindset of the American soccer player.

    Let me preface this by saying I’m an MLS season ticket holder as well as a US Nat’l team supporter, but reality is reality.

    “… Leeds is, both competitive-wise and financially, a better decision for me.”

    We all know about the financial aspect, but I think this shows – at least in Grella’s mind – that League 1 is more competitive than MLS. Forget those delusional comparisons of MLS to lower-level Prem sides or even the Championship. A wake-up call as to where the quality of MLS stands.

    “I didn’t really think about the national team when I made my decision,” he said.

    Unlike a lot of people here, who view every American player’s move through the eyes of how it will help/hurt the NT.

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  12. There is no comparing the history, pageantry, and atmosphere of an MLS game to even league 1 football. I’ve been to some blue square matches that are more alive than RBNY games. Can’t blame Grella for wanting to experience that.

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  13. “Someone who can’t undertand the decision of bypassing the MLS to go to a lower division team like Leeds, I think doesn’t really know much about the game,” he said. “Leeds is a fantastic club, a Premiership club in the wrong division.”

    With all due respect I could not disagree more with this statement, he’s selling a lot of American fans short here. I wish him the best, but he must not know much about Leeds’ recent history. If Leeds were a Premiership club in the “wrong division” they wouldn’t still be down in League One only 5 years after they were relegated out of the top flight.

    ——
    Nope, he’s right. They average more fans than anyone in MLS (except, maybe, the Galaxy), they have more supporters worldwide, they have a century of tradition, and, bad management notwithstanding, a reputation it will take decades for MLS teams to achieve.

    And MLS is, at best, a mixture of Coca Cola Championship skill level and lower league skill levels, so it’s not likely to even be poorer quality.

    People here, I swear, it’s great that they enjoy football and are so into it, but there’s no humility with respect to the traditions and history of the game. Comparing an MLS rookie deal to playing for Leeds? It is to laugh.

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  14. Great story. It reminds me of Chase Hilgenbrinck, who went to play in the Chilean 2nd division after he graduated from Clemson. He’s now playing with the New England Revolution. I’d bet that we’ll eventually see Mr. Grella in MLS

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  15. “Someone who can’t undertand the decision of bypassing the MLS to go to a lower division team like Leeds, I think doesn’t really know much about the game,” he said. “Leeds is a fantastic club, a Premiership club in the wrong division.”

    Wow he’s delusional for a Duke grad. Guess what buddy, Premiership clubs play in the Premiership, they don’t get relegated twice down to League One.

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  16. An excellent article and very well written -hats off to you Dylan.

    I guarantee you no matter what happens he’ll be the most educated player on Leeds United. That is the 2 edged sword of the U.S./college system and the one no one ever seems to focus on. If you don’t cut it as a player after college at least you have your education to fall back on. Plus all the top programs in college soccer are for the most part at universities with excellent academic reputations. Imagine Wayne Rooney’s life if he had a career ending knee injury at 18? Now imagine how many academy wash outs with the mental prowess of Rooney who are floating around England/Europe with nothing tangible to stake their futures on? It would make a very interesting investigative piece we could look at the next time we trash the U.S. college system. (And I am not saying it is the best for player development because it surely isn’t but it does leave the players with something should soccer not work out)

    I wish him all the luck in the world. (And he will make more money in the process to boot)

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  17. Great, another US produced product dogging MLS over there ridiculous wage structure. MLS is seriously close to losing what fans they have.

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  18. “Someone who can’t undertand the decision of bypassing the MLS to go to a lower division team like Leeds, I think doesn’t really know much about the game,” he said. “Leeds is a fantastic club, a Premiership club in the wrong division.”

    With all due respect I could not disagree more with this statement, he’s selling a lot of American fans short here. I wish him the best, but he must not know much about Leeds’ recent history. If Leeds were a Premiership club in the “wrong division” they wouldn’t still be down in League One only 5 years after they were relegated out of the top flight.

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  19. Not to be annoying, but isn’t Leeds in League 1 which is essentially the second division of the championship and the third division in the entire FA? My apologies, I’m way off here. Good article either way!

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  20. Enjoy that higher level that is the English first division.

    It’s about the money, plain and simple. He can BS all he wants.

    I’d have done the same thing.

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  21. Before he gets excited about what they offered, he should wait to see if the check clears… this is Leeds we’re talking about

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  22. I feel you, Nick, but what is MLS/RBNY supposed to do? Offer an unproven kid who’s never played a solitary minute of pro ball a quarter-million dollars per? I can’t blame them for not doing that.

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  23. Best of luck to the guy, as long as he doesn’t suddenly want to play for Italy should he eventually blossoms into a world class striker….

    Reply

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