Hanover, NJ (May 5th, 2015) – Regardless of what side of the New York soccer fence you sit on, it is the rare event that ignites the culture around the game more than a good old fashioned rivalry match – two clubs, out for blood, looking to plant their own flag upon the soil on which they battle. Most rivalries are born from history. For example, the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox, the Rangers and Islanders, the Giants and Cowboys, and the Red Bulls and DC United. This weekend however, it is towards the burgeoning rivalry in New York to which our eyes turn, one that really hasn’t had the opportunity to develop the way one might think, considering the fan banter back and forth.
Don’t know what I mean? Go check out twitter as soon as you get done reading this.
For Mike Grella, the journey to this league, this club, and this match between two geographically positioned rivals has been an odd one. He flirted with joining MLS at the beginning of his professional career. After being selected in the third round of the 2009 Superdraft by Toronto FC, Grella chose instead to try his luck in Europe, which never quite panned out the way one would have hoped. After a stint with Leeds United, and a couple of loans, Grella made his way back stateside to play with the Carolina RailHawks. After a year playing in the US second division, he made his way back to the top of the proverbial American soccer pyramid.
Incidentally, Grella sees this has a huge opportunity for local guy to make good. “This game means everything to me. Earlier in the year, I had a slight opportunity to go to NYCFC, and they passed up on me,” Grella told LWOS Tuesday after training. “This a big match for me, big match for the team, and a big match for the history of soccer in this country. It’s probably one of the biggest matches I’ve (been a part of) in my career, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
In addition to the turn away from NYCFC, New York Cosmos had Grella over on a short training stint, before returning to England. It seems, in the end, the Red Bulls were a choice of destiny.
Grella has seen his fair share of cross town rivalry matches having played in the Championship and lower divisions in England. Although it didn’t work out for him, he looks back at his European travels with pride. For the youth players of today, he talked about perseverance. “Perserverance and hard work goes farther than any amount of talent, any sort of knowledge about soccer. There’s a lot of lows and a lot of highs in a career, and you’ve got to stay somewhere in the middle. (You’ve got to) stick through some pretty dark times and work hard even when no one is looking,” Grella said.
“I started playing soccer very young. My parents are both from Italy, so I had no choice really,” he quipped.
Growing up in the New York game at the time, there was one way to go, and that was through the State teams. “I loved the game since I was very young, and grew up playing the game in Long Island. I worked my way through what the system was back in, making my way through the State teams, the travel teams, and making the regional teams. Growing up in Long Island and playing soccer is great. There’s plenty of good people around New York that know the game,” he said.
With someone as traveled as Grella is, comparing soccer in the states with the game abroad comes up often. “I get this question a lot, and people want to know where it equals up in England. It’s hard to say, but it’s very competitive and I’m enjoying myself very much.”
Featured Photo: Bill Twomey, Bill Twomey Photography