Ned Grabavoy: Ups, Downs and Ups of a Winner


Photo: Ali Gilmore

Ned Grabavoy: Ups, Downs and Ups of a Winner

By Ethan Gomberg

“He’s a striker!”

Ned Grabavoy, the starting midfielder for Real Salt Lake, has taken an unusual path to starter-dom in Utah. Grabavoy has played in top programs and at top MLS clubs, winning his share of championships. However, it wasn’t until he arrived in Utah that he truly found his soccer home. With the recent departure/retirement of Andy Williams, Ned Grabavoy now takes his place as a starter and integral part of coach Jason Kreis’s system at Real Salt Lake.

This native of Joliet, Illinois started his career with the exceptional youth Chicago Magic Club and also played for the Chicago Fire Premiere club. He excelled at that level and playing as a forward he got noticed by several scouts. Among them multiple NCAA champions, Indiana University in the Big Ten conference.

Playing at Indiana

Grabavoy enrolled at Indiana University in 2001. While at IU, he was coached by the legendary Coach Jerry Yeagley. Yeagley was the 2nd coach in the history of the NCAA to reach 500 wins. Ned’s time was wisely used and he became a leader on the field and in the score books. In 2003, for example, he scored four goals in his first six games. All this time he played at the forward position.

Ned continued to excel and make the program proud. He had an opportunity later in his college years to go to France to play professionally. Grabavoy was especially cognizant of the connection the Indiana program had with the rising Major League Soccer organization, realizing that his path lie there.

He also came into contact with those with later RSL connections. This is not unusual, it’s like seven degrees of Kevin Bacon, only soccer style.

Grabavoy ironically followed the same person to two separate locations. His predecessor at Indiana, and also his predecessor at RSL, Chris Klein. Klein played at Indiana from 1994-1997. He also played at Real Salt Lake from 2006-2007.

Speaking of how Klein represents IU in MLS, Grabavoy told the student paper in 2003:

“It makes me feel real good to know that he came through the same program,” Grabavoy said.

“It’s satisfying. It’s nice to see he’s doing well.”

MLS career starts

Photo: Julie Harper

By 2004, Ned’s college career was ending but his MLS career was just beginning. He was drafted 14th overall by the Los Angeles Galaxy.

It was at the Galaxy that Ned switched to playing more of a midfielder position. Also he was drafted and spent his first year in LA under the careful eye of former UCLA head coach and current Seattle Sounder coach, Sigi Schmid.

In 2005, as part of the LA Galaxy, Ned found himself winning a MLS Cup, his first but certainly not his last. LA had played fairly unspectacularly in the run up to that Cup. Grabavoy was one of those that believed.

He played most of the match, which ended in regular time 0-0 and he was substituted in the last minute for eventual goal scorer Guillermo Ramírez. It was a little bit of a miss for him, but he celebrated with his teammates like Landon Donovan and Kevin Hartman.

From LA to Columbus to San Jose

A year later he was taken in a four man trade to Columbus, where he was reunited with now Crew head coach, Sigi Schmid. Apparently the insightful coach saw something in Grabavoy that maybe others did not. Schmid immediately inserted Grabavoy into his midfield.

Under Schmid, the Crew transformed into an Eastern Conference power. However, Grabavoy would only see the beginnings of it, as his first two years in Columbus were a trying time for the midfielder and the Crew. After the 2007 season, Grabavoy found himself on the Expansion Draft list and he was quickly selected by the re-founded San Jose Earthquakes.

Although he was part of the initial Earthquakes line-up, the club fell upon hard times and many of the players paid the price. They ended the year with only eight wins, 33 points and dead last in the Western Conference.

Ned found himself released from San Jose after one year. The expansion side was searching for new answers and head coach Frank Yallop decided to part ways with the Illinois native.  Speaking of that time, Grabavoy said:

“I had a good season. But it’s tough on an expansion side and all the players struggled.”

However being waived by the Quakes and being snatched up by Real Salt Lake, as it turns out, was the best thing that’s happened to the midfielder.

“Kreis jumped at the chance”

On March 3, 2009, the San Jose Earthquakes waived Grabavoy. On March 4th, Real Salt Lake signed him to a contract for 2009. Apparently, it has been said the RSL Coach Jason Kreis jumped at the chance to sign Grabavoy.

On an interesting note, the day Ned was signed, RSL finally released its very first draft pick, #1 overall pick for 2005, future Sounder Nik Besagno. Most RSL long time fans will say that Besagno was perhaps one of the worse decisions by RSL and signing Ned Grabavoy was among the best. Apparently they solved both problems on the same day.

Playing in a new system caused Grabavoy to grow in different ways. Kreis noted to reporters at the time that he was lacking in defensive responsibilities. As per usual with Kreis “survivors”, the player not only changed but thrived at his new club. Recently, he was noted for making impressive offensive and defensive plays and was asked about it.

On asked of his ability now to play both sides, Grabavoy said “Trying to, the legs were tiring {laugh}, but playing and training at home makes a big difference.”

RSL wins MLS Cup 2009

In the playoffs that year, RSL found itself against his old club, the Columbus Crew. However,  the defending champions were easily dispatched by RSL. In the next match, Grabavoy and RSL found themselves away against his home town club the Chicago Fire. And of course, it was up to him to take care of business in Penalty Kicks after regulation was over.

On scoring the winning PK, Grabavoy said:

“I was excited to have the chance to help our club and our team win the game and go to the finals, to win a championship”

In his first year with RSL, he once again visited the promise land of the MLS Cup. This time he was against his old club the Los Angeles Galaxy. Once again the score was tied in regulation. Unlike last time though, Grabavoy came in as a 2nd half substitute for current team mate, Will Johnson. RSL went on to the penalty kicks and he was one of the crucial PK takers and he struck gold again, scoring third for RSL as they defeated his first MLS team in the MLS Cup.

A Cindarella story. A day to remember for Grabavoy and MLS / Photo: Rick Morrison

On winning the MLS Cup with RSL, Grabavoy said in 2009

“It’s a Cinderella story, it really is.”

2010 and 2011 had incredible highs and large lows. Probably the high was the run up to the Champions League final. At one point after going winless in 4 and losing players like Javier Morales to injury Grabavoy had this to say:

“For sure; it kind of feels like we can’t get a bounce to go our way. We keep saying and trying to do the right things and the guys are putting the work in. The effort is good, but it’s obviously got to get better at this point.”

Mr. Starter

In 2012, RSL has a great desire to win the MLS Cup and be successful. So too does their starting midfielder, that former striker from Illinois, Ned Grabavoy. With the changes in the off-season, RSL relies even more heavily on Grabavoy. And he is filling that role quite nicely. Now he is at home, playing for a club the deeply appreciates him and team mates that understand him”

 “We’re just playing within the team and that’s when we play our best. When we move the ball things open up in the final third for some of those special guys that can make a special play.”

Special plays for special players. Ned Grabavoy is one of these special MLS players, and a hallmark of the Real Salt Lake midfield.


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