After joining the New York Red Bulls on trial last month, former Leeds United forward Mike Grella has impressed enough since to seal a full-time deal with the MLS club for the 2015 campaign.
Grella, 28, spent last season with the Carolina RailHawks in NASL following his return to the States from Europe and, after showing some solid form in the US second-tier, earned a place on the Red Bulls’ initial preseason roster.
The New York-native would go on to showcase an impressive nose for goal during the first few weeks of training camp and, with 2014 Golden Boot-winner Bradley Wright-Phillips the only other front man under contract following Thierry Henry’s December departure, it was enough to convince new head coach Jesse Marsch of his worth.
“Mike has come in here fit, with a great mentality and shown that he’s ready to establish himself,” Marsch told the club’s official website. “I think he fits what we’re trying to do really well – he can cover a lot of ground, he’s athletic and he’s been good around the goal.
“As much as there’s been other pieces that have been great, he’s just shown some quality around the goal, whether in training in games seems to score almost every day.”
Grella himself added on signing with his hometown club: “There couldn’t be a better place than New York. I couldn’t be more excited about it.
“There were some clubs in MLS and always options to go back to Europe but I got married a year and a half ago and have a three-month-old baby boy right now so we knew where we wanted to be.”
One of the college game’s top prospects at Duke after netting 41 goals in four seasons between 2005 and 2008, Grella shunned the chance to start his pro career in MLS in 2009 in favour of exploring European opportunities through his Italian passport.
He soon found a home in England with Leeds following a successful trial, but failed to crack the line-up during his first 18 months at Elland Road before being loaned out to Carlisle United and Swindon Town over the course of the 2010-11 campaign.
Released in August 2011 after five goals in 40 total games, the skillful American would split the next two seasons with League One’s Brentford, Bury and Scunthorpe United, respectively, as well as with Danish side Viborg FF, where he made just two appearances before opting to head back to the States last April.
With Red Bulls set to go with Wright-Phillips as their lone man up top this season, Grella might not get too much of a chance to be the focal point of the attack, but he believes he is versatile enough to fill a number of roles on the pitch.
“I think I’m able to play any of the four [attacking] positions equally,” he added. “I’m very happy to play anywhere in the attack and anywhere I can be of use for the team. I think my flexibility in those areas is good.”
Once hailed as a US national team hopeful, it remains to be seen how much Grella can offer the Red Bulls during the regular-season considering his recent struggles but, after seeing how Wright-Phillips was reinvigorated in New York in 2014, fans will be hoping to witness another similar breakout from the Long Island product.