It's been an exciting couple of days for Major League Soccer - my Twitter feed has been replete with words like "NYC", "Queens", "Yankees", "$400 million", "oil baron", and other words synonymous with big money. But for a moment, I'd like to talk about a subject that might be the soccer opposite of the New York expansion news: Ned Grabavoy. Real Salt Lake fans know better than most what Grabavoy's game is all about: Honest, hard work on both sides of the ball. He's rarely in the headlines. He's rarely in the spotlight. He's rarely up for Goal of the Week. What you get from "Grabs" is a solid, consistent effort, tidy possession, and hard tackles.
But this week the media is all abuzz with Grabavoy news, thanks to his two goals that led to RSL's lighting-up of Chivas USA on Sunday at the Home Depot Center. Don't get me wrong - it's a remarkable story to be sure. To put it in perspective, Grabavoy is in his 10th year in MLS and he has scored 10 goals. In other words, a ten-year veteran added 20% to his career goal total in 90 minutes. That's headline-worthy stuff, but I don't want to let the goals overshadow the rest of his game, because Sunday night Grabavoy was very, very good.
Take a look at Ned's passing chalkboard against Chivas. Ignore the completion percentage (more on that later) and ask yourself where most of his passes came from. The answer is, everywhere! This is what a box-to-box midfielder does - he covers all the length and width he can, helping in possession when his team has the ball and looking to win the ball back when his team doesn't. Speaking of winning the ball, Grabavoy was extraordinarily effective at that versus Chivas: His five tackles won were second-most on the team, just one behind Chris Wingert. Most of us probably would have expected that honor to belong to one of the other fullbacks or maybe Kyle Beckerman. But on Sunday, it was Grabavoy who did most of the midfield ball-winning for RSL.
Grabavoy also had RSL's best pass completion rate with 36 of 43 (83.7 percent) passes completed. That's no easy task on this team - Beckerman has lead MLS in this category for the last 2.5 seasons. Normally 84% isn't a great number, so why was it the best mark in this game? Well, the answer has everything to do with how Chivas chose to play defense. Their always-entertaining coach "Chelis" Sola elected to compress all his players into the smallest possible area in order to disrupt RSL's passing game. Honestly, it worked well; with the playable area of the field so small, every time an RSL player received a pass there he had a Chivas player nipping at his heels before he could line up a good pass. That led to a lot of incomplete passes. However, we also saw the downside of Chivas' defensive scheme: It left a lot of room behind the defense for attackers to use to run onto through balls, something Salt Lake players did with success all night (including Grabavoy, obviously).
It's a remarkable night when any RSL player nets a brace, but I would be remiss if I let Ned Grabavoy's goals overshadow his excellent overall performance on both sides of the ball.
A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.