Ex-Leeds man Mike Grella misses out on MLS award but earns head coach's praise

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The New York Red Bulls striker finished runner-up for Goal of the Week honours after scoring a fantastic chip against the Columbus Crew.

While New York Red Bulls forward Mike Grella might have missed out on the latest MLS Goal of the Week award, his head coach Jesse Marsch has been showering him with verbal accolades.

Grella, 28, grabbed his first-ever MLS goal in last weekend’s 2-1 win at the Columbus Crew, scoring within seconds of coming on in the 67th-minute with a long-range chip to restore his side’s lead and put them back on course for three points.

It was a historic strike for the Red Bulls too – their 1,000th as a club – but still not quite enough to earn the former Leeds United man week four’s prize, with Montreal Impact striker Jack McInerney’s own looping chip just pushing Grella's effort into second-place on the ballot with 27.65 per cent of the vote compared to 24.78.

There’s little doubt over whose goal Marsch voted for, though, with the Red Bulls coach telling MLSsoccer.com of his delight at the impact the New York-native has made in his 24-minute cameo against Columbus.

Signed ahead of the 2015 campaign following a successful preseason trial, Grella has had to contend with fellow newcomer Sal Zizzo for a spot on the left flank in the side’s 4-2-3-1 formation thus far, making just one start in two appearances, but his new boss believes his qualities will earn him more than enough opportunities moving forward.

“I think that they each provide a little something different. The good news is that they’re both good from the start, and they’re good off the bench,” he said.

“Mike’s overall impact on the game – defensively, covering ground, being aggressive in the final third, his sharpness around the goal – makes him different than Sal.

“Mike’s pure physical ability to run, cover ground and pressure [the defence] is really good. It’s the reason why he got the nod over Sal in the [season-opening] Kansas City game. We felt like he’d be able to give us a little more physically from the start.

“More than anything, it’s important for the team to understand the strengths of each guy when he’s in the game and how to use him,” Marsch added. “We try to get Mike closer to goal because he’s good around the goal and can finish plays really well.

“They’ve both made it hard on me because they’ve both been good and sharp. They’ll both play big roles [throughout the season]. It’s a nice problem to have as a coach figuring out which way to go.”

Having returned to the US from Europe last season to join the Carolina RailHawks in second-tier NASL, Grella is now in just his first MLS campaign and it’s fair to claim that he’s been thrown in at the deep end.

After the shock offseason firing of club legend Mike Petke followed the departures of both Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, 2014 Golden Boot-winner Bradley Wright-Phillips has been left as the face of the franchise and, more significantly, their lone proven goalscorer.

Others will thus need to step up if the Red Bulls are to make their sixth-consecutive post-season appearance and, with Grella taking up the former skipper and Arsenal legend’s old position on the left in his two outings so far, he will be one of the names who Marsch will be hoping can help make the transition that much easier.

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