The former Leeds United man took up Thierry Henry's old role on the left flank in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City, but his showing didn't exactly inspire confidence.
The New York Red Bulls began the post-Thierry Henry era with a 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City on Sunday night, as former Leeds United forward Mike Grella earned the first shot at the former skipper’s place in the line-up.
Henry enjoyed arguably the best of his five MLS campaigns in 2014, netting 10 times in 30 regular-season games, while also adding 14 assist to help fellow forward Bradley Wright-Phillips equal the league’s single-season scoring record with 27 goals.
Playing on the left flank in then-head coach Mike Petke’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation during the final run in, the Frenchman’s form helped the Red Bulls come within a goal from making the MLS Cup final, as a 4-3 aggregate defeat to the New England Revolution proved his last contribution to the game.
A dramatic offseason overhaul led to both his and Tim Cahill’s departure, as well as the shock firing of Petke, but, while new boss Jesse Marsh has added a host of new players to his roster since, the same formation still remains.
Nevertheless, finding a worthy replacement in the months following Henry’s exit has understandably proved a tough task, and the fact that Grella has so far been their most significant attacking addition hasn’t exactly instilled hoped of a fruitful 2015.
After spending last season with the Carolina Railhawks in the US second-tier upon returning from Europe, the American front man impressed enough during a preseason trial with the MLS club to a earn a full-time deal, before taking another big step in his career revival with a start in the club’s season opener at KC.
However, in assuming Henry’s old role on the left, the ex-Leeds man proceeded to put in a far from inspiring 67-minute outing, which produced just one off-target shot, no key passes, two wayward crosses and only 34 touches of the football before being hauled off.
Coach Marsh was clearly frustrated by the lack of impact offered by the likes of Grella on the night, with the former US international lamenting the few chances Wright-Phillips was supplied with at the final whistle.
“We would like to get Bradley more involved, that's for sure,” Marsch admitted to MLSsoccer.com. “He did have a couple advantages that didn't come his way or the way that we would want them to. Not sure about some of the offside calls, I'll have to take another look at that again but I continue to feel strongly that Bradley will find his chances and we have a good midfield behind him.”
The Red Bulls next game doesn’t come until March 22 when they host Eastern Conference rivals D.C. United, but it remains to be seen whether Grella will be in the line-up again for that match.
One of the college game’s top prospects at Duke after netting 41 goals between 2005 and 2008, the versatile attacker was considered a potential US international at the time of shunning the chance to enter the 2009 MLS SuperDraft in favour of exploring European opportunities through his Italian passport, but he has shown few signs of becoming that player since.
While he offered brief flashes of potential after finding a home with Leeds in 2009, scoring five times in 40 games, his 2011 departure led to lacklustre spells 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 US last April.
It remains to be seen whether Red Bulls fans will get to see some of the talent which was once promised but, judging from his first performance, he will need to step up his game over the coming weeks and months in order to stay in Marsch's plans.